Kampala last week dispatched Attorney-General William Byaruhanga to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, as renewed pressure mounted on the government to settle an almost 20 year-old reparation dispute with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Court in 2005 ordered the government of Uganda to pay $10 billion to DR Congo following a complaint Kinshasa filed in 1999.
The complaint covered acts of armed aggression, massive human-rights violations, looting, destruction, confiscation of property and arrest of persons and other unlawful acts against its neighbour.
A political solution has been in the works between the two countries since 2014 when the governments moved to repair relations. Time is now of the essence to expedite this.
Mr Byaruhanga reportedly left Kampala early last week for The Hague, in response to a December 6 order by which the Court fixed February 6, 2018 as the time-limit for Uganda to file its response so that the court could rule on the question of reparations without any further delay.
In a November 22, 2016 meeting held by the president of the Court, Uganda had requested a time limit of 16 months so that it could translate into English DR Congo’s “extremely voluminous pleading” written in French, in order to prepare its own adequate response.
However, Mr Byaruhanga’s Congolese counterpart objected to Uganda’s request, noting that almost 11 years had passed since the ICJ adjudged Kampala guilty on December 19, 2005.
DR Congo’s AG argued that the victims of Uganda’s invasion and plunder of his country have waited since then for justice and any further delays would be an even graver disservice to them even more.
Kinshasa’s pleas appear to have been buttressed by a separate opinion of one of the 14 judges of the Court, who include Uganda’s Julia Sebutinde.
Judge Cançado Trindade openly expressed displeasure at how proceedings on reparations in the DR Congo versus Uganda case have been handled.
According to a summary of his opinion that the ICJ released, Judge Trindade said he found it “most regrettable” that “the graver the breaches of international law appear to be, the more time-consuming and difficult it becomes to impart justice,” as the case in question seemed to demonstrate.
He noted how, whereas the Court had given due attention to the need for reparations, it should have also set up a reasonable time limit within which they should be implemented. This is because “the Court is not conditioned or limited by what the parties request or want, not even in the fixing of time-limits.”
In Judge Trindade’s understanding, the duty of reparation “does not come, as a ‘secondary obligation,’ after the breach, to be complied when the States concerned deem feasible. The duty of reparation, a fundamental obligation, arises immediately with the breach, to be promptly complied with, so as to avoid the aggravation of the harm already done, and restore the integrity of the legal order.”
This is not the first time either Uganda or DR Congo have sought extensions to prepare requisite documentation to support their case. The latter’s objection is thus surprising coming as it is at a time relations between the two countries have vastly improved.
For instance, just last August, Kampala and Kinshasa commenced discussions on how to collaborate over joint economic activities in the exploitation of natural resources in common transboundary areas.
Specifically, Uganda invited DR Congo to consider joining the construction of an export pipeline for crude oil from Hoima to the Tanzanian port of Tanga since both countries share the Albertine Basin where Uganda discovered its oil deposits and DR Congo is exploring for its own.