Uganda to discuss ICJ ruling on rights and plunder with Congo
Uganda plans to negotiate with the Congolese government over the implementation of the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which has found Kampala guilty of plundering Congolese resources.
But even as Uganda studies the 102-page ruling, Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Julius Onen said he expects the issue to be settled without Uganda having to pay any money.
He also said that negotiations between the two parties will start in about four months' time.
"The pronouncement by the court is purely a declaration and the essence of implementation is a negotiation process. I am sure we shall find a lot of common grounds with Congo, especially since we are neighbours, Mr Onen told The EastAfrican.
He added that once Uganda finishes internalising the ruling, it will initiate diplomatic contact with Congolese authorities to commence the negotiations.
The ICJ also ruled that the Congo government was under obligation to make reparations to Uganda, after upholding one of three counter-claims by Kampala.
In its ruling on December 19, the ICJ said Uganda violated the principle of non-use of force in international relations and the principle of non-intervention when it occupied parts of Congo and supported Congolese rebel groups.
The court also found that Uganda's armed forces, "committed acts of killing, torture and other forms of inhumane treatment on the Congolese civilian population, destroyed villages and civilian buildings, failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets and to protect the civilian population in fighting with other combatants as well as training child soldiers."
The Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) was found guilty of inciting ethnic conflict and failing to take measures to put an end to the conflict in the areas it occupied, hence Uganda violated its obligations under international human-rights laws and international humanitarian laws.
The court directed that Uganda should pay reparations to the Congolese government, though it did not specify the amount. Instead, the two governments were to agree on the amount through negotiations.
A Congolese government spokesman said Congo intends to ask Uganda to pay between $6 billion and $10 billion, a figure a senior ICJ official said would be reasonable.
But Mr Onen said the figure was "pure speculation". He added that he expected negotiations between the two countries to be concluded with a handshake rather than the handing over of a hefty check to President Joseph Kabila's government.
Adolf Mwesige, Uganda's Minister of State for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said the government will set up two commissions: one to investigate the allegations made against individuals in the ICJ report and another to negotiate a settlement with Kinshasa. He said if implicated individuals are found guilty, they will face the law.
Mwesige said the two commissions could be set up as early as this week when the Cabinet meets to discuss the report.
Mr Mwesige said Uganda was likely to swap some of the recommended penalties. "Congo is also to pay some compensation to Uganda. So we shall sit and negotiate possibilities of swapping the penalties," he said.
The court said Congolese armed forces violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 when they attacked Uganda's embassy in Kinshasa, maltreated diplomats and other individuals on the embassy premises and at Ndjili International Airport.
In its counter-claims, Uganda said it also wanted Congo to compensate it for the loss of property and lives arising out of attacks on western Uganda by Congo-based rebels, and for properties destroyed or looted when Ugandan diplomats fled the embassy.
Uganda's lawyers said in late 2001 that they would want Congo to compensate Kampala for $6.3 million. The court upheld Uganda's submissions.
Uganda told the court there were instances of illegal commercial activities or looting committed by certain members of the Ugandan military forces acting in their private capacity and in violation of orders and instructions given to them by state authorities.
Mr Onen said while the two parties had wanted to settle the case out of court at Congo's request in 2003 - when relations between the two countries warmed up - this had failed.
"Once the litigation started, the process was taken over by lawyers and not the parties to the case," he said.
When Congo filed its case at The Hague in 1999, it jointly sued Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, all of whom it accused of violating its territorial integrity, plundering its resources and committing human-rights violations against its people.
However, Rwanda and Burundi said since they had not ratified the ICJ convention, the court could not try them on January 15, 2001. As a result, Congo withdrew the case against them. Uganda submitted to the jurisdiction of the UCJ in 1963 so it could not invoke the same defence.
In July 2002, however, the Congolese government filed a fresh case against Rwanda. In its initial pleadings, Rwanda contested the powers of the ICJ to hear the case and requested that it be removed from the list of those to be heard by the UN institution. By 15 votes to one, the court ruled that it could not grant Rwanda's request that the case be removed from the list.
In its defence, Uganda told the court that its forces entered eastern Congo in May 1997 at the invitation of former president Laurent Kabila, to work in collaboration with his forces to arrest the activities of the anti-Uganda rebels.
The Ugandan forces had remained in the area after Kabila became president again at his invitation. It said this arrangement was formalised by a written agreement dated April 27, 1998.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Among)