Mirjam Blaak, Uganda’s deputy head of mission to Brussels and lead person to the International Criminal Court (ICC), hosted the Review Conference of the Rome Statute in Kampala that ended last Friday.
By Robin van Wechem
Why did Uganda host the Kampala Conference?
It was proposed to host the Conference in Kampala instead of New York or The Hague, because Africa is where all the cases of the ICC are taking place, and where all the victims of these horrible crimes live. Many delegates participated in pre-conference visits to Northern Uganda. For them it was a lifetime experience because, until then, they had only been discussing the Rome Statute in theory, but they had never been in touch with the victims.
Do you think that the Conference has met expectations?
Yes, though it was quite a battle. We only reached consensus on the crime of aggression at one o’clock Saturday morning. The African and Latin-American groups emphasised that the court should not be dependent on political decisions taken by the Security Council. Meanwhile, the Council’s permanent members only wanted to give the ICC the mandate to investigate a situation after the Security Council has pronounced a resolution.
The US under George W. Bush was sceptical towards the ICC. Any change in President Obama’s delegation?
The US has pronounced an engagement with the court, but they also stated that they are not likely to sign or ratify the Rome Statute in the near future. Other non-state parties such as Russia and China were also very interested in the Conference. However, that does not mean that they are going to ratify the Statute.
Was the Conference an issue among the Ugandan population?
Definitely. We had 1,200 victims who participated in the pre-Conference soccer match with President Museveni of Uganda and the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban ki-moon. There were victims from Darfur and Congo participating in the match, and they will share their impressions of the Conference with other victims back home.
Civil society has been closely involved in organising this event. The International Bar Association and the Uganda Law Society organised a mood court, so that people in Uganda could see how a court case takes place. Africa Legal Aid organised pre-Conference activities, and other NGOs also assisted us a lot. We had daily radio shows and television programmes about the conference, and the newspapers were full of it. So in that sense, the Conference has been a huge success.
Is the ICC well known in Uganda?
I think that there is nobody in Uganda now that does not know what the ICC stands for, as we were the first country to refer a case to the court. The peace process in Uganda has caused a lot more understanding between the government and the people in Northern Uganda.
I think the people now realise that the government has done everything in its power to make [Lord’s Resistance Army leader] Joseph Kony sign this agreement, and that he refused. People are still very afraid that Kony will return, so we have to do our best to coordinate that arrest with countries in the region. The US passed a law in the Senate three weeks ago that they are going to assist in the arrest of Kony because he still makes the whole region unsafe.
At the Conference, some have accused Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni of war crimes in Northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Outright lies. The opposition tries to smear the president in the run up to the presidential elections next year. The ICC has already investigated the situation and never brought charges against him.
What has to be done to implement the arrangements of the Kampala Conference?
Other amendments have been put on the agenda, such as terrorism, piracy and drugs trafficking. In Kampala we only wanted to concern ourselves with the crime of aggression. At the next assembly in New York in December we shall discuss these other amendments.