Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, on Friday rejected calls by MPs from northern Uganda to indict government officials for alleged war crimes during the counter-insurgency operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.
Ms Bensouda is in the country to follow up on the impending trial of former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen at ICC in The Hague for war crimes.
Dokolo Woman MP Ms Cecilia Ogwal had asked Ms Bensouda to consider preferring similar charges against the NRM government officials accused of committing atrocities against civilians in the north during the LRA rebellion.
“It’s a complex situation,” Bensouda replied: adding that ICC does not have a provision in its rules to summon government, according to sources who attended the closed door meeting with MPs at Parliament on Friday.
In asking ICC prosecutor to indict government officials, Ms Ogwal sought to know the action ICC prosecutor would take if it finds the government also committed atrocities during the LRA insurgency.
Sources said the ICC prosecutor however, said the government is “free to request the judge of the ICC to make submissions in cases like that of Ongwen.
“During Ongwen trial, if any witness points a finger to government, the judges can summon government to make submissions towards such allegation [but not as a key suspect in the case.],” Bensouda said.
When contacted on Friday, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces’ spokesman Lt Col Paddy Ankunda said: “MPs are free to make such accusations, they have a right to do that. But if anybody has evidence that UPDF soldiers committed any atrocities in the north, we will cooperate in investigating such cases.”
Ms Bensouda, after a courtesy call to Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, met selected MPs from Acholi, Lango and Teso, the regions worst ravaged by the LRA rebellion, as part of her wider consultations with the victims, political leaders and religious leaders.
On the question of trying Ongwen as a victim and at the same time a perpetrator, Ms Bensouda said: “The question of whether ICC is going to try Ongwen does not arise since at the time of his capture, he was already an adult. This is why Ongwen was allowed to choose his lawyer and he chose Crispus Ayen Odong (Oyam North MP) to represent him.”
She admitted some African leaders were seeking to quit ICC but said this was in their self defence. However, she said this won’t deter ICC from pursuing cases before the court to stop impunity.