Monday, March 17, 2008

What is Justice in Uganda?

The dispute between Uganda and the International Criminal Court over the status of the indictments of Joseph Kony and other leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army has reached a crucial point. Yoweri Musevni, the president of Uganda, has announced that Uganda will refuse to hand Kony and the others under indictment over to the ICC so that a peace deal, including an agreement for Kony and others to face local, Ugandan courts, can be struck. The ICC issued the indictments when Uganda, an ICC signatory, referred the case to the ICC in 2005 and Uganda is now obliged, as a result of its accession to the ICC, to arrest Kony and his lieutenants and remand them to ICC custody. Now, Uganda believes that that obligation is an obstacle to peace, as Kony has little incentive to end his rebellion and sign a peace deal if doing so will result in his arrest and trial in international court. Uganda has asserted the right to withdraw its request for ICC involvement, since Uganda requested the ICC's participation, but, according to the Guardian article linked above:
Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor for the Bosnia and Rwanda international tribunals which laid the ground for the ICC, has said that if Museveni gets his way it would be "fatally damaging to the credibility" of the court.

"I just don't accept that Museveni has any right to use the international criminal court like this," he said last year. "If you have a system of international justice you've got to follow through on it. If in some cases that's going to make peace negotiations difficult that may be the price that has to be paid."

Last week, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, refused to meet representatives of the LRA and said the indictments still stand.

The LRA is, unquestionably, deserving of punishment far beyond what a civil court can dish out. The LRA is infamous for abducting children and using drugs and terror to enslave them into their ranks, hacking off people's arms, legs, and even lips and eyelids, forcing children to rape and murder their parents, among other documented and reported atrocities. But should the desire to visit punishment and retribution on these monsters win out over the desire to resolve a long-running conflict that has killed, maimed, and dislocated thousands? Should the desire of the ICC and the international community outweigh the request of the Ugandan government to settle this conflict as it sees fit?

Over at Opinio Juris, Julian Ku and Kevin Jon Heller have been going back and forth on this issue. Julian sees the ICC as "an obstacle to peace," where Kevin argues that "it is difficult to argue that the ICC should simply step aside and leave the Ugandan government and the LRA to their own devices." According to Kevin:
There is obviously no guarantee that the two sides, once freed from ICC oversight, will negotiate a peace that is genuinely acceptable to ordinary Ugandans. Indeed, the evidence to date indicates otherwise. And, of course, the Court will suffer significant and potentially irreparable harm if it rewards the combined Uganda/LRA temper tantrum: as John Boonstra noted today (also at UN Dispatch), "[i]f the ICC is seen as capitulating to the demands of its host government — or worse, to those of an indicted war criminal — a dangerous precedent will be set for the court's work elsewhere."

What, then, is the right answer? It seems to me that the answer lies in the ICC's principle of complementarity. Given that ordinary Ugandans favor traditional justice for low-level perpetrators and criminal prosecution for high-level perpetrators, the Court should insist on two things: (1) that the Ugandan government and the LRA revert back to their original plan to try Kony and the other LRA leaders in Uganda's High Court; and (2) that the Ugandan government revamp its criminal justice system to satisfy the principle of complementarity. At that point — and only at that point — should the ICC step aside.
The principle of complementarity to which Kevin refers above is:
The International Criminal Court will complement national courts so that they retain jurisdiction to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

If a case is being considered by a country with jurisdiction over it, then the ICC cannot act unless the country is unwilling or unable genuinely to investigate or prosecute.

A country may be determined to be "unwilling" if it is clearly shielding someone from responsibility for ICC crimes. A country may be "unable" when its legal system has collapsed.
I think Kevin has set the bar a bit too high here, but his general point is a good one. Uganda has acceded to the Treaty of Rome, creating a clear jurisdiction for the ICC. The ICC should be more deferential to the needs of its members, particular in cases where indictments may be barring the road to settling a conflict (or convincing a leader to step down). And while it's right for the ICC to insist on some level of serious prosecution, the presumption should favor Uganda. A desire to lightly punish, or even perhaps pardon, Kony in order to end the conflict should not be seen as unwilling, so long as the settlement is real. If that's the price of ending the conflict, and if Uganda is willing to pay that price, the ICC should not stand in the way. If, however, Uganda was to pardon Kony and his underlings without a real end to the conflict, then the ICC would be right to maintain its insistence on carrying out the arrest warrants.

This is a difficult test case for the ICC and the expansion of international law more generally. As the example of Uganda shows, politics is often too complicated for generalized international law to deal with simply. And while law must not be ignored, it also must not be allowed to stand in the way of ending one of the more brutal rebellions on the planet.


Jeb Koogler said...

Fascinating post, Seth. This is a particularly interesting case, and has many implications for the ICC and the concept of universal jurisdiction more broadly. Unusual coincidence: I'm actually writing a paper on this very topic as we speak, so I was glad to read your take. I will definitely refer to this post.

Dr. D said...

Very logical, but the only problem is that it seems that Museveni is using this to perpetuate the status quo -- i.e., does Museveni really want to end the conflict in the North? Many would say no. Does Museveni really have the interest of the Acholi people at heart? Probably not.