A Ugandan opposition leader called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the country’s president ahead of 2011 elections over alleged crimes committed in northern Uganda and in the capital Kampala.
Olara Otunnu, a former UN under secretary-general, handed evidence to ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo at a review conference of the Hague-based court in Kampala yesterday and requested a probe into President Yoweri Museveni.
The politician said he was presenting a three-part case to the prosecutor over the killing of more than 30 people in a Kampala riot last September, allegations of genocide in northern Uganda and war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“If he (Otunnu) believes crimes should be investigated, he has the right to present any information he considers proper,” Moreno-Ocampo said at a hastily arranged news conference.
“I cannot follow political possibilities, I follow legal possibilities,” he said. “I will assess the information.”
Uganda’s junior Justice Minister Fred Ruhindi declined to respond to Olara’s allegations: “I don’t know what was said. I don’t know who said what. When it gets to the relevant government agencies, the relevant authorities will respond.”
The country is gearing up for presidential elections next year and Otunnu heads the opposition Uganda Peoples Congress party. He was also foreign minister from 1985-86 before Museveni took power.
In office since 1986, Museveni was initially credited with returning stability and economic vitality to Uganda, ravaged by dictatorship and civil wars in the 1970s and early 1980s.
But donors and international civil society groups now accuse him of suppressing opposition and free speech, strengthening his grip on power and failing to rein in rampant corruption.
The ICC is the world’s first permanent war crimes court and Otunnu said the fact Museveni is hosting the ICC conference made “a mockery of what the ICC statute is all about”.
Moreno-Ocampo said anyone in Uganda can lodge evidence with the prosecutor for assessment, but stressed he is only mandated to investigate crimes that took place after July 1, 2002 when the ICC was established.
The court is already investigating more than 20 years of civil war between Uganda’s government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and has four outstanding arrest warrants against senior LRA commanders. None is in custody.
Otunnu accused Museveni of deaths stemming from what he said was the internment of 2 million people in “concentration camps” during the conflict in the north that extended beyond 2002.
Ostensibly for their own protection, Museveni ordered the Acholi people of the north — an opposition stronghold — into camps for internally displaced people, where they were dependent on aid and lived in desperate conditions.
Last September’s deadly riots occurred after the government tried to restrict the movements of the king of Buganda, one of Uganda’s four ancient kingdoms. Buganda and the central government are in dispute over land and power.
In 2005, the International Court of Justice ruled Uganda violated international laws regarding the non-use of force and human rights obligations during armed conflict in the DRC.
Pic: President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda