First Challenge for the ICC

The International Criminal Court Looks to Central Africa

Global Solutions Quarterly, Spring 2004

Citizens for Global Solutions


After ten years of intense global effort, the International Criminal Court (ICC) - the only permanent court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity - is up and running. Contrary to the doomsday predictions of the Court's detractors in the United States, the ICC is comprised of expert staff, internationally renowned judges, and a Prosecutor who is working carefully to build the Court's credibility. The Court has broad support among the world's democracies; currently, 92 countries are full members of the Court. Already the ICC has received hundreds of comrnunications about alleged crimes from around the world. However, most of these communications do not fall under the Court's jurisdiction, and only five situations have been identified by the Court's Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, as being suitable for the Court to follow. He has made his interest in two of these situations public: o The ongoing atrocities in the Ituri District of the Democratic Republic of Congo The war in neighboring northern Uganda.

Ituri District, on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is home to one of the worst humanitarian crises of recent times. The current civil war in the Congo has been ongoing for five years, claiming an estimated 3.3 million lives due to violence, disease and starvation. This is the largest death toll of any war since the Second World War. In Ituri, the hardest hit area in the country, human rights organizations have reported widespread torture, mass rape, mutilation, indiscriminate killing and the forced recruitment of child soldiers.

In July 2003, Moreno-Ocampo announced that the ICC is closely following the situation in Ituri. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is an ICC member state, so Moreno Ocampo is working with the transitional government to help it investigate and try these cases domestically or else refer the situation to the ICC. In this situation, the Prosecutor could initiate an investigation on his own, with the approval of a three -judge panel, but it is easier under the ICC's Statute (and for seeking Congolese cooperation) if the Congo makes a referral.

Across the border from Ituri, another conflict has ravaged northern Uganda for eighteen years. The war between the forces of the Ugandan government (the UPDF) and the armed rebel group the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) has progressively worsened, making the situation in northern Uganda a desperate one. A major tactic of the LRA is to abduct children, both boys and girls, and use them as soldiers and sex slaves in their army. It has been estimated that as many as 20,000 children have been abducted since the beginning of the conflict in 1987. These children are forced to commit horrific acts of violence under the threat of death. Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes and move to internal displacement camps, where living conditions are overcrowded and squalid. In addition, thousands of children in northern Uganda trek to the cities at night to sleep in public places to avoid abduction, yet this increases their {vulnerability to other forms of abuse.

While the LRA tactics are brutal, the UPDF has also been accused of rape, torture, extrajudicial execution, and the use of child soldiers.

Uganda is also an ICC member country, and in January 2004, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni referred this situation to the Court. The ICC will look at the actions of all sides in the conflict; Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo emphasized that any investigation "will be carried out in an independent and impartial way, with paramount importance being given to the interests of victims."

The ICC can only look into crimes committed since July 1, 2002, when the Court's statute took effect. If the Prosecutor does determine in these two situations that there is reasonable basis to launch an official investigation, it will still take a while for any case to come to trial. After a thorough investigation, the Prosecutor must get judicial approval for an arrest warrant. The charges have to be confirmed in a hearing, ideally after the person in question has been arrested. And no trial can begin before those charged are in custody. In addition, this process can be halted or deferred for numerous reasons. All of this will probably take longer to sort through with the first cases, as the judges will want to ensure that careful and judicious precedents are set. For now, Moreno-Ocampo has appointed Christine Chung, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, as head of the Ugandan investigation.

How the Court proceeds with these two situations is crucial for the Court's future. If the court is to gain global credibility, it must demonstrate that it is able to conduct a thorough and fair trial, marked by efficiency, impartiality and careful consideration of the needs of survivors. The people of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo deserve no less.

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