By Gloria Laker Aciro
GULU- The International Criminal Court has come under critism by the Gulu based Human Rights Focus, a local human rights non-governmental organisation over what they say is not balanced in its work.
Francis Odongyoo an official from Human Rights Focus Gulu, told journalists in Gulu that ICC operations in the Acholi sub-region are very tricky and not clear.
“The way ICC works is very tricky and not balanced at all. If anyone of you sees members of the ICC come to Gulu to ask people’s opinion or advice, may be in hidden places. ICC operates by inviting few individuals then they go and do their things in Kampala; they investigate it from there and take the report to The Hague” Odongyoo said.
He says in a way the ICC closes itself to the community and that makes it very difficult for other Justice and human rights organizations to advise them (ICC)
Odongyoo says despite the fact that both human rights focus and ICC work for human rights and Justice, “Our mode of work differs for instance, the issue of wether justice should come before peace is as difficult as asking the difference between an egg and chicken. In our own opinion and relying on what the people say, peace first and then justice can come later and that is our position as human rights.
Beyond Juba project
Okot Benard Kasozi, an official with “Beyond the Juba project”, a transitional justice project of the refugee law project also shares the same view with the human rights focus. He says. “The position of Beyond the Juba project is clear but did not comment further on ICC mode of work in Acholi sub-region”
ICC response on Human Rights claims
Responding to the claims, Ms Maria Kamara from the ICC field office based in Kampala denied the allegation saying ICC works with many organizations and has created many partners. She says ICC strategy for this year is to creat new partnerships in Uganda at the same time maintaining those already working with them (ICC).
“The thing is that ICC works with so many partners because we are trying to bridge the gap. We have an office in Kampala; we do not have an office upcountry. We cannot work effectively without the cooperation and partnership from the local organizations like Human Rights and Justice Organizations, which are interested in the well fair of people. She remarked.
When the peace talks were going on, we were attacked and we kept a law profile then, however that never stopped us from working with NGOs because Acholi region is key and it’s a stake in this issue and there is no way you can successfully implement a program here without their cooperation.
Nevertheless, we would also appreciate that it is very difficult to work with every body. Some times, it is redundancy, not that we are selective. Kamara added.
Jimmy Otim Ocogo also an ICC official from Kampala office said that depending on the people ICC is targeting, they do not need to inform the human rights groups.
“If we are to meet and work with local NGos, Councilors or go to schools we don’t need to go to human rights groups. We are working with every body and more than happy to work with every body other than just an institution, and we do not need to go to human rights groups to show that we are working with every body”. Otim was quoted as saying.
New developments in northern Uganda
In relation to Northern Uganda Kamara said that Investigations are still going on and it is difficult to pre determine what will be the next step for the prosecutor in relation to the current situation in northern Uganda but the prosecutor might not increase new charges if the crime does not increase.
She says ICC has maintained its Red Notice to the international police (Interpol), local police, MONUC forces in the DRC, and the Sudan government to help arrest the four accused persons who include, Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen.
Vincent Otti saga
She said the ICC still insists that rumours about the death of Vincent Otti are irrelevant because a DN test has never been done and the ICC does not rely on rumours but facts.
“Unless we carry a DN test on Vincent Otii and confirm he really died, his arrest warrant is still outstanding. For now, there are still four outstanding arrest warrants for the LRA” Kamara concluded.
However the ICC court has since confirmed the death of Raska Lukwiya after a DN test was done and the Judges of the pre- trial chamber one terminated proceedings because you cannot prosecute a dead person. She said.
ICC will never go to Juba
According to the ICC, they will sort out criminal issues with the LRA in Court. “We have not gone to Juba and will never go to Juba. For us we sort out issues in Court” Kamara remarks.
Cut of Relief Supply to LRA
Kamara insists that relief supply to LRA rebels must be cut off as a solution to cornering the wanted criminals. “Yes it is taking long to have the four top LRA into the ICC custody but time will catch up on them. We need cooperation from member states and cutting all relief supplies to them is a way forward for us.
Al-Bashir’s arrest warrant,
Kamara says that in the case of Sudan situation, the arrest warrant has not yet been released. “All the prosecutor did was, he submitted information or evident to the pre- trial chamber which is a judicial body consisting of 3 competent, independent and neutral judges for them to issue arrest warrant based on the investigation and evidence that the prosecutor has gathered. The pre trial chamber will only issue an arrest warrant if the evidence presented by the prosecutor establishes beyond reasonable doubt that indeed, the president of Sudan has committed crimes against humanity as alleged by the prosecutor”
Kamara says the decision to issue Al-Bashir arrest warrant may take several weeks or months before a decision is made. This means that there is no time frame and deadline when the Judges will return with a decision.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Commenting on the DRC situation, she said the accused persons are still in the custody of ICC, but Thomas Lubanga’s trial that was to start on 23rd of June has been put on hold following a witness refusal to give out the details in court.
“The trial and the trial chamber ruled that Lubanga should be released but the prosecutor has appealed therefore the case is still before the court of appeal” Two other accused persons from DRC, Mathew, and Gatanio have since been arrested and are in ICC custody
The Rome Statute applies to all persons regardless of their official capacities in their communities. It does not prevent the ICC from bringing charges against them.
Article 27 of the Rome Statute states clearly that there is no impunity for serving or retired heads of states, ministers or even members of parliament as long as they committed serious crimes, they will have to face the ICC.
Kamara also praised the ICC’s move in the selected countries where serious crimes have been committed saying more people are beginning to appreciate the ICC for its good work.
The current peace in Northern Uganda is partly because of the ICC arrest warrant issued against the top LRA commanders and Uganda being a member country of the ICC since 2002, requested the ICC to investigate the situation in northern Uganda