Uganda’s frosty relations with the International Criminal Court could take a turn for the worse after The Hague court said it would consider a petition by five legislators to open crimes against humanity investigations against the government following the attack in November on the Rwenzururu kingdom palace in Kasese, west of the country.
ICC confirmed last week that it had entered the communication in its to-do-list. “This does not mean an investigation has been opened or that one will be opened. We will give consideration to the communication as appropriate,” said Mark Dillon, the head of information and evidence unit at the Office of the Prosecutor.
According to the Rome Statute that set up the ICC, the OTP has to ask the government of Uganda whether it has capacity or interest to prosecute the issues complained about. Once the ICC is satisfied that the government is not in a position to do so, it can investigate the veracity of the claims to determine if the evidence supports a trial.
This could take up to two years, going by the timelines of the Kenyan case arising from the post-election violence of 2007/8.
“It is the complainants’ contention that there cannot be any credible investigation by the state authorities in Uganda, particularly the state security forces, in crimes committed by them and there cannot also be credible proceedings when the government is sitting in its own cause. The ICC has the mandate to complement existing national judicial systems and it is the proper Court where national courts are unable to prosecute high ranking criminals,” reads the petition by the political leadership from Kasese district to the ICC.
In their petition, the legislators asked the ICC to open investigations into “indiscriminate murder, massacres, acts of genocide and extensive destruction of property against the Rwenzururu Kingdom.”
President Yoweri Museveni has been dragged into the matter along with Brig Peter Elwelu, the commander of the army’s 2nd Division, and Asuman Mugenyi, the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of operations. The list, however, could grow if the ICC grants the petitioners’ request to open formal investigations into the killings.
“Brig Elwelu repeatedly told us and said publicly that he was under the command of the commander-in-chief who, as you know, cannot be summoned by any court in Uganda. So, where else could we have gone to seek justice for crimes against humanity we believe were committed against us?” said Winnie Kiiza, leader of opposition in parliament and the Woman MP for Kasese. She was among the legislators who signed the petition.
President Museveni has no love for the ICC, so much so that he has called its officials “a bunch of useless people.”
Government officials have dismissed the petition as mere political posturing aimed at distracting the government from prosecuting the real instigators of the attack.
The petition came just days after President Museveni met the MPs on December 28, 2016 at his farm in Kisozi in Gomba District – some 193km west of Uganda’s capital Kampala.
In the meeting, accusations were traded about who was fanning instability in the area as the legislators demanded the unconditional release from custody of the cultural leader of the Rwenzururu Kingdom Charles Wesley Mumbere.
The president demanded that the cultural institution divorce itself from opposition politics as all the Kasese MPs are from the Forum for Democratic Change party. However, he said, the law would be followed to the letter.
Mr Mumbere was charged on November 29, 2016, with the murder of a police officer in March, 2016. On December 11 other charges of terrorism, attempted murder and aggravated robbery were added. He is expected in court on Monday, January 9, to hear his bail application. He is more than 60 years old and is seeking bail on the grounds of old age and ill health.
“Bail is a constitutional right and the Omusinga is presumed innocent until proven guilty and Museveni himself has said due process of the law must be followed to the letter,” Ms Kiiza said.
Kasese district remains uneasily calm under a joint security surveillance following the gruesome November attacks in which more than 100 people died.