(New York) - In its investigation in Northern Uganda, the International Criminal Court must ensure protection for witnesses and victims. The court needs to investigate serious crimes committed by all sides to the conflict in order to ensure justice and promote sustainable peace.
Today, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor has announced that it will initiate an investigation in Uganda. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had referred the situation in Northern Uganda to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in January.
According to Human Rights Watch research, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has engaged in the abduction, execution, torture, mutilation, rape, and sexual assault of thousands of Ugandan civilians, including children. In the past two years, the rebel group has kidnapped approximately 12,000 children for use as soldiers, laborers, and sexual slaves. Abductees are typically threatened with death should they refuse to follow orders that can include killing civilians and abducting other children.
"It is essential that the ICC take measures to guard witnesses and victims from reprisals," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program at Human Rights Watch. "This is a necessary step to protect those that are willing to step forward."
Human Rights Watch urged the ICC to provide adequate protection for witnesses and victims. Specifically, the investigation should be undertaken in a way that does not imperil the lives of those children still held captive by rebel forces. The deployment of additional child-protection personnel and human rights monitors in Northern Uganda is of utmost importance.
In addition to crimes committed by the LRA, Human Rights Watch has also reported abuses by Ugandan government forces. As they prepare to deploy for their investigation in Northern Uganda, ICC investigators should be prepared to act appropriately on any credible allegation of crimes committed by either side.
"It is imperative that the ICC conducts an impartial investigation in Uganda," said Richard Dicker. "The ICC has the authority to investigate crimes committed by all sides in the conflict, not just the Lord's Resistance Army."
The Ugandan parliament ratified the ICC treaty in June 2002. In so doing, Uganda has committed itself to cooperating with the ICC to investigate crimes, provide evidence and arrest and hand over individuals sought by the court.
"We expect the Ugandan government to cooperate with the ICC investigation and help provide for the safety of both victims and witnesses," Dicker said.