First International Criminal Court Case Targets Uganda's Rebels.

The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court announced yesterday the tribunal's first case would target Ugandan rebel leaders who have kidnapped thousands of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves.

The world's only permanent war crimes court won jurisdiction for the case when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni lodged a formal complaint against the Lords' Resistance Army with the Hague-based tribunal in December (Isabelle Wesselingh, Agence France-Presse, Jan. 29).

As many as 20,000 children aged 11-15 have been abducted by the LRA in northern Uganda during its 17-year insurgency.

The rebels have "kidnapped thousands of kids, forced them to be soldiers, forced them to kill their parents, forced them to be sex slaves," said Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. "I don't know a more awful crime." Moreno-Ocampo said the court would begin collecting evidence, then seek arrest warrants.

The LRA includes remnants of a northern rebellion that was launched against Museveni, a southerner, when he won control of the country in 1986. Led by a mysterious former altar boy named Joseph Kony, the group seeks to replace Uganda's government with an administration based on the biblical Ten Commandments (Wesselingh, AFP).

The LRA is accused of pillaging villages and summarily executing citizens, and a statement from Moreno-Ocampo's office said the rebels have hacked off limbs, ears and lips of those suspected of aiding the central government.

The campaign has frightened thousands of villagers into sending their children into towns before nightfall to seek shelter in churches or charity agency offices until dawn. Many people have been displaced, and the conflict is blamed for the deaths of 23,000 people.

Since it came into existence in 2002, the ICC has received hundreds of requests to investigate war crimes, most reportedly involving the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Moreno-Ocampo was saying as recently as September that he had selected the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as "the first situation which merits to be closely followed" by his office. He is still waiting for Kinshasa, however, to officially refer the case to the court.

In related news, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Uganda Daouda Toure said yesterday the United Nations had reorganized itself in an effort to address "one of the most forgotten crises" in Africa. A visit to Uganda last fall by U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland had refocused international attention on the issue, Toure said.Speaking in Nairobi at the launch of a book jointly produced by the U.N.

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Integrated Regional Information Networks, Toure said insecurity in the country was still very serious.

"You are talking about 1.3 million people living in camps without adequate sanitation and water, of people who are maimed, abducted and raped Ð let alone the risks of HIV/AIDS infection Ð by their own people," Toure said.

"When The Sun Sets, We Start to Worry" uses personal testimonies and black and white photographs to draw attention to the conflict.

[Source: IRIN, UN, 29Jan04]

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