© 2016 Oryem Nyeko

Pulling out of the ICC would leave victims of war without redress

When presidential candidates Abed Bwanika and Yoweri Museveni said Uganda should pull out of the International Criminal Court the audience in the hotel conference hall applauded. The reality is, however, that such a move would be disastrous for the Ugandans that need justice the most.

Yes, the ICC has its flaws. All nine situations are based in African countries, which does not reflect the breadth of human rights atrocities across the world (prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has, however, recently been authorized to begin investigations into crimes committed in South Ossetia, Georgia). But this is no reason for Uganda to abandon the court.

This is because leaving it would severely reduce the prospect of justice for victims of the crimes that the court tries. The ICC, it must be remembered, was never meant to be an only resort. Instead, it was meant to be complementary to national criminal justice systems. This means that for victims of conflict it serves as one recourse in addition to others that already exist within individual member states. Rejecting the already restricted ICC, therefore, means one less solution for people that need as many as opportunities for redress possible.

If Uganda were to pull out of the ICC this would undermine the very idea of international criminal justice. In order for any judicial system to be effective it needs two things: independence and the means to enforce its decisions. As it stands, international courts and tribunals exist in a space where they have to rely on the cooperation and support of countries that are party to them. Pulling its cooperation and support out of one international court sends a message that when an international criminal justice system does not suit its current interests then the state can simply dismiss it, weakening the prospects for any future institution Uganda may be party to.

While we debate pulling out of the ICC, we ignore the fact that it has been seven years since Uganda’s own International Crimes Division (ICD) came into existence, and that during this time it has failed to convict any perpetrators of crimes committed during the war in northern Uganda. Instead of championing leaving the ICC, the focus should instead be on addressing the gaps that exist within the ICD that prevents it from providing redress for victims. We should be talking about making our national systems efficient and timely, promoting the rule of law, guaranteeing witness protection and victim participation, and ensuring accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes.

During the debate President Museveni said that “we never accept impunity in our country”. This spoke to a time, a little over a decade ago, when Uganda requested the intervention of the court in the hopes of addressing the crimes that were committed during the LRA-Government of Uganda war. Years later, however, that hope is still waiting to be met. It seems that today for impunity to truly not exist in Uganda, the country should look inwards rather than outwards.

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