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Germany: Promote Respect for Human Rights and Justice for Serious Crimes

Letter to the President of the Federal Republic of Germany upon his visit to Uganda and Rwanda

Professor Dr. Horst Köhler  
President of the Federal Republic of Germany  
Berlin, Germany  
Dear President Köhler,

We write to ask you to use the opportunities offered by your visits to Uganda and Rwanda to contribute, as Germany has so often done in the past, to the promotion of respect for human rights and justice for serious crimes under international law.  

Your visit to Uganda comes at an important moment as the government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) appear likely to resume the peace talks which have been stalled for the past several months. Given that the LRA has repeatedly sought to portray the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the obstacle to achieving peace, this would be a most opportune time for Germany to reaffirm the need to prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law.  

As a firm supporter of the International Criminal Court and host of the June 2007 Nuremberg conference on building a future on peace and justice, Germany is uniquely well-placed to urge an outcome for northern Uganda that includes both peace and justice for the crimes that have devastated the lives of the people there.  

In 2005, the ICC issued arrest warrants for LRA leaders on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in northern Uganda. In June 2007, the government and the LRA signed an agreement on principles of accountability and reconciliation that acknowledges the need for trials for serious crimes but looks to national trials. The extent of commitment to implement this agreement remains unclear.  

National prosecutions of ICC cases are possible, but under the Rome Statute and other international standards any such prosecutions should include fair and credible trials and penalties that reflect the gravity of the crimes. Given that the ICC has jurisdiction over crimes in northern Uganda, it is ICC judges who must decide if any proposed national trials meet these criteria. Customary practices, proposed by some Ugandans, may be useful in establishing broader accountability. They may supplement but cannot substitute for prosecution according to international standards.  

Prosecutions for the most serious crimes committed by both sides are necessary to achieve not only justice but also a durable peace for northern Uganda. International law, of course, mandates such prosecutions. But prosecutions in accordance with international standards also send the message, especially to would-be perpetrators, that no one is above the law. This helps build respect for the rule of law by solidifying confidence in judicial institutions, which in turn helps cement peace and long-term stability.

ICC states parties have an important role to play in backing the court's mandate in specific situations like Uganda where apparent or real tensions between achieving peace and justice may need to be managed. Your support for prosecutions according to international standards could help persuade the parties that such prosecutions are essential to any outcome and a sustainable peace in northern Uganda.

Secondly, we urge you to press the Ugandan government to investigate and, where appropriate, to bring to trial according to international standards members of its own armed forces who have committed abuses in northern and eastern Uganda. This includes abuses by government forces in the conflict in northern Uganda and in disarmament operations in Karamoja. In order for justice to serve as a basis to contribute to stability, it should be impartial justice.  

Now that the Congolese government and 22 rebel groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have just signed a peace agreement, this is also a most opportune moment for you to visit Rwanda. The accord offers a real hope of ending ten years of conflict in which civilians have overwhelmingly been the victims and all parties have committed grievous violations of international humanitarian law. We are sure that you know of the important role played by your colleagues at the European Union (EU) in facilitating this accord. No doubt you also know that Rwandan cooperation will be crucial in implementing the terms of this accord, and thereby will protect civilians from further abuses of human rights and humanitarian law.  

In the past the Congolese rebel Laurent Nkunda recruited combatants, many of them child soldiers, from among refugees housed in camps in Rwanda. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees repeatedly reminded the Rwandan government of its responsibility to halt this recruitment. By reinforcing the need for Rwanda to abstain from any future assistance to Congolese rebel groups, in particular groups involved in such recruitment, you will give strength to the message already delivered by EU diplomats.

The hope for an end to persistent human rights violations in Congo depends also on ending the activity of the Rwandan rebel group, the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the one rebel group in eastern Congo that did not sign the Goma accord. Although presenting itself as opposed to the Rwandan government and in conflict with Rwandan military, the FDLR is responsible for attacks on Congolese civilians often amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a November agreement between the Congolese and Rwandan governments, Congo agreed to cease any assistance to the FDLR. Such a measure is necessary but not sufficient to enable and encourage many FDLR combatants' return to Rwanda. Rwanda should follow the recommendation of the eminent Africans who reviewed the situation in Rwanda as part of the African Peer Review Mechanism in 2006 and should allow for greater political space and diversity, which may encourage many FDLR combatants to return home.

Given that legislative elections are planned for October 2008, your reminder of the importance of permitting space for political dissent and debate could influence the Rwandans to permit genuine opposition parties to operate. This development would facilitate the conduct of free and fair elections and hopefully avoid the disappointing results of the 2003 presidential elections, criticized by a European Union observer mission.

Some FDLR combatants are accused of genocide and other serious crimes committed in Rwanda in 1994 and since that time. A very small number of them have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and should be delivered into its custody. Others should be liable for prosecution when they return to Rwanda. Given that Rwanda is currently proposing to end the gacaca jurisdictions that prosecute most cases of genocide by mid-2008, it would be important for you to urge Rwanda to make adequate provision for trial according to international standards of any FDLR combatants who do return home but are accused of genocide and other serious crimes.

FDLR combatants accused of serious violations of international humanitarian law in the Congo should have their cases investigated and prosecuted in the Congo.

We appreciate your consideration of this letter and wish you a productive visit to Uganda and Rwanda. 

Marianne Heuwagen  
Berlin Advocacy Director  
Human Rights Watch

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