How safe is Museveni after Lubanga conviction?

By Charles Ochen Okwir

19th March 2012: The International Criminal Court [ICC] in The Hague has finally convicted Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga of recruiting child soldiers between the ages of nine and 15.  The three trial Judges unanimously agreed on Wednesday 14, March 2012 that the prosecution had proved its case “beyond reasonable doubt”.

As President of the Union des patriotes congolais (Union of Congolese Patriots) (UPC), and Commander-in-Chief of its military wing the FPLC, Lubanga had “…actively supported recruitment initiatives, for instance by giving speeches to the local population and the recruits”…and was responsible for “the conscription of child soldiers” – some of whom he used as “personal bodyguards”.

The Implications

The ICC prosecutors proved that children as young as 11 were recruited from their homes and schools and taken to military training camps where they were beaten and used as sex slaves before being taken to fight in brutal wars between 2002 and 2003.  It’s this particular aspect the case that could give it far reaching consequences.

In a report titled ‘UN finds Congo Child Soldiers’ published on the BBC website on Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, the United Nations agency for children, UNICEF claimed that it had discovered 163 child soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo at Kyankwanzi training camp, the venue of the NRM’s regular retreats!

The children were allegedly brought to Kyankwanzi to attend “political education” and military drill training.  The UNICEF-led team, we were told, spent three days in Kyankwanzi, identifying and registering the group of children who had been living there for six months.  The UN’s news agency IRIN also reported this case – adding to the credibility of the BBC report.

The Taylor Precedent

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor today stands accused of 11 counts of, inter alia, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law before the Criminal Tribunal for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague – the same place where Thomas Lubanga learnt his fate last week.

Taylor was charged on the basis that he allegedly backed Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who were accused of abducting children and forcing them to become fighters during the conflict in Sierra Leone.  Prosecution also alleges that Charles Taylor bears responsibility for the Liberian forces believed to have fought alongside the RUF.

In a nutshell, the prosecution’s case is that Charles Taylor bears individual criminal responsibility for planning, instigating, and aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes by providing military training and support to the RUF and other Sierra Leone rebels groups.

How safe is Museveni?

Therefore, with the benefit of the facts of Charles Taylor’s trial, we must now ask ourselves this crucial question:  If the BBC and IRIN reports cited above are indeed accurate, then how safe from [criminal] prosecution is Ugandan President Gen. Yoweri Museveni?  After all, as president and Commander-in-Chief, it was his implied consent that enabled the 163 Congolese children to be trained as child soldiers at Kyankwanzi.

Apart from the possibility of facing charges for directly aiding and abetting the training [at Kyankwanzi] of Congolese children into Thomas Lubanga’s rebel army, Museveni, like Charles Taylor, may also have to answer very uncomfortable questions about why he failed to “…take reasonable measures to prevent or punish the crimes while knowing or having reason to know about them.

Challenge for the ICC

Following the indictment of Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] rebel leader Joseph Kony, critics of the ICC accused it of bias.  They asked why the ICC only indicted the LRA leadership and turned a blind eye to evidence that could have implicated top Ugandan army officers in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Writing in the Daily Monitor last week, Prof Mahmood Mamdani pointed out some key facts which lend some credence to accusations of bias against the ICC.  “…Young adults recall the time from the mid-90s when over 80 per cent of the total population of three Acholi districts was forcibly interned in camps – the government claimed it was to “protect” them from the LRA. But there were allegations of murder, bombing, and burning of entire villages, first to force people into the camps and then to force them to stay put.” Mamdani said.

Even on the global stage, the ICC’s fairness and credibility is being called into serious question – with many asking why it seems to be more interested in indicting Africans for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  When it indicted Sudanese President Omar El Bashir, the ICC showed that it has the courage to indict sitting presidents.

Whether or not the ICC decides to give Museveni the same treatment Charles Taylor got could be the ICC’s first post-Lubanga conviction credibility test.  It really has its work cut out.  END.  Please login to every Monday to read our top stories and anytime mid-week for our news updates.

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