THE HAGUE, Saturday
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has urged remaining members of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army to lay down arms, dismissing rumours of deadly consequences.
Fatou Bensouda said her office had received reports from northern Uganda that LRA members were being misled by their leader Joseph Kony and told they could be tortured or killed by the court.
“It is a fallacy to suggest that ICC engages in torture or killing,” Bensouda said.
“Many LRA fighters are returning home and reintegrating into their communities. I urge those still in the bush to seize any opportunity to stop fighting and return home, where you have a chance to rebuild your lives.”
She also denied that the court was seeking to seize and prosecute LRA members other than Kony and his captured commander Dominic Ongwen.
“Only the cases of Kony or Ongwen are before the ICC. No other LRA member is subject to proceedings,” she insisted.
Bensouda again called on Kony to turn himself in to the court, where he is wanted on 33 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including for enlisting child soldiers, rape, sexual enslavement and pillage.
She said her office would continue to galvanise efforts to arrest him.
Ongwen, who surrendered early last year and was handed over to the ICC, is to go on trial on 70 charges.
REIGN OF TERROR
The LRA, which led a reign of terror in northern Uganda, is accused of slaughtering more than 100,000 people and abducting 60,000 children in a rebellion against Kampala that began in 1986.
Over the years, the rebel group has moved freely across porous regional borders, shifting from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before heading into northeastern DR Congo and finally crossing into the Central African Republic in March 2008.
Combining religious mysticism with a bent for astute guerrilla tactics and bloodthirsty ruthlessness, Kony has turned scores of young girls into personal sex slaves while claiming to be fighting to impose the Bible’s 10 Commandments.
Meanwhile, Uganda police have ended the six-week-long house arrest of an opposition leader imposed after he said presidential polls were rigged.
Second-placed Kizza Besigye, who rejected the results of the February 18 election won by President Yoweri Museveni, has been kept inside his home in Kampala for 43 days.
“I have given a directive that the deployment of officers outside Besigye’s home be withdrawn forthwith,” police chief Kale Kayihura said.
Kayihura gave no explanation why the house arrest was being lifted but last Thursday, the Supreme Court dismissed a legal challenge to the election result and upheld Museveni’s fifth-term victory.
Besigye has said his detention was designed to block him from gathering evidence of fraud in “a scandalous election”.
With Besigye unable to submit a legal challenge, third-placed Amama Mbabazi — a former premier who won just over one per cent of the vote — filed the suit that has since been rejected.
Museveni, in power since 1986, was declared winner with 61 per cent of the vote and has rejected claims that his victory was through cheating and fraud.
A long-standing opponent of Museveni, Besigye has been frequently jailed, accused of treason and rape, teargassed, beaten and hospitalised over the years, but this was the longest period he had ever been under house arrest.
“We expect Besigye to respect the law and stop causing trouble for people going about their businesses,” Kayihura said.
“He must respect the law. If he veers off, the police are there to protect people.”
Also on Friday, David Sejusa, a former intelligence chief turned critic of Museveni, was granted bail after having been held since January 31.
Ex-general Sejusa was once one of Uganda’s top military bosses, serving as spy chief and as a close adviser of Museveni.
“Finally, the high court has given him bail. This is relief to him and family” Sejusa’s lawyer David Mushabe said.
“The state frustrated his bail for months, but there was no way to extend the custody.”