In 2004, Uganda invited the ICC to investigate an ongoing decades-long conflict between the Lord's Resistance Army and the government. In 2005, the ICC issued arrest warrants for five senior LRA members. One of them, Ongwen, is currently on trial.
Situation phase: 
Investigation – ongoing
Regions: 
Africa
After ratifying the Rome Statute in June 2002, Uganda became the first state to ‘self-refer’ to the ICC by inviting the prosecutor to open an investigation into alleged grave crimes in northern Uganda, where the government had been fighting Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for many decades.

Both sides are suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Cases have so far only been brought against LRA members. Uganda has implemented the Rome Statute into national law, facilitating cooperation with the ICC, and has established an International Crimes Division (ICD) to allow for domestic prosecutions of grave crimes. The work of the ICD has been hampered for several reasons, including a pre-existing amnesty law that has been applied to LRA members. More recent years have seen Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni adopt anti-ICC rhetoric. Uganda has a strong civil society network pushing for accountability for grave crimes nationally and internationally.

 

Background
Northern Uganda faced a protracted conflict between the government of Uganda and the quasi-religious armed rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) since Ugandan Preseident Yoweri Museveni first came to power in 1986. Both sides are suspected of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The LRA rose up in northern Uganda in the late 1980s claiming to defend the interests of the Acholi ethnic group. Reports suggest the LRA has consistently targeted and directed brutal attacks against civilian populations in Northern Uganda. Between 1987 and 2006, at least 20,000 children were allegedly abducted to become child soldiers, servants, and sex slaves while more than 1.9 million civilians from northern Uganda alone were displaced into government camps. LRA Crisis Tracker has registered thousands of civilian deaths and abductions attributable to the group. The neighboring territories of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR) have seen increased LRA activities since the group signed a truce with the Ugandan government in 2006. Regarding alleged crimes by state actors, the Ugandan government in 1999 - unable to defeat the LRA by force - began driving the Acholi civilian population into ‘protected camps.’ To ensure compliance with its strict camp policy, the government allegedly beat civilians and randomly shelled villages. The camps themselves witnessed claims of grievous conditions and inhumane acts. Some reports indicate systematic rape by Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers. The UPDF claimed the suspects were court-martialed. Human Rights Watch suggests they were merely transferred. The army also allegedly failed to protect the civilian population in the camps against LRA attacks and against the spread of diseases such cholera, ebola, and HIV/AIDS in unhygienic and crowded conditions. At the height of the conflict, 1.8 million people lived in the camps and roughly 1,000 were dying each week.
ICC situation

First state self-referral and ICC arrest warrants

Uganda became the first state to refer a situation on its own territory to the ICC on 16 December 2003. After a brief preliminary examination, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in July 2004 opened a full criminal investigation into the situation in northern Uganda. 

ICC judges found a reasonable basis to believe that the LRA established a pattern of brutalizing civilian populations, including in the Pajule internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in 2003 as well as in the Odek, Lukodi, and Abok IDP camps in 2004, during the course of its insurgency against the Ugandan government.

In 2005, Pre-Trial Chamber II issued arrest warrants for five senior LRA members, including leader Joseph Kony and commander Dominic Ongwen. The cases against Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo were terminated in 2007 and 2015, respectively, after forensic evidence confirmed Lukwiya’s death  in 2006 and Odhiambo’s death in 2013. Second-in-command Vincent Otti meanwhile is believed to be dead but the arrest warrant against him is still outstanding.

The ICC investigation has not yielded cases against government officials and armed forces. According to some civil society groups, the absence of such cases—or clear and public explanations as to why they are not being pursued—has left too many victims without justice and undermined perceptions of the Court’s independence and impartiality. 
 

Cooperation

Rome Statute implemented into national law

The International Criminal Court Act of 2010 allows Uganda to cooperate with the ICC, including in investigating and prosecuting individuals accused of crimes under the Rome Statute. The law also provides for the arrest and surrender of ICC suspects. 

Failures to arrest LRA suspects

Regional governments, along with a United States military force, failed for over a decade to arrest the LRA leadership, who managed to evade capture by operating in the border regions between Uganda, the CAR, South Sudan, and the DRC. One supect turned himself in while three others are now believed dead; LRA leader Joseph Kony remains at large.

The Coalition urges the international community to cooperate with the ICC and to coordinate their efforts to locate, isolate, and arrest LRA commanders who continue to block justice for victims at the ICC.

National prosecutions

Amnesty law at odds with work of International Crimes Division

In 2008, the International Crimes Division (ICD) was established under the High Court of Uganda to try war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, terrorism, human-trafficking, piracy, and other international crimes. Uganda explained to the ICC that those with ICC warrants against them would be subject to the jurisdiction of the ICD. The special division, however, has experienced challenges in prosecuting high-level LRA officials due to the country’s amnesty laws and concerns that the traditional justice processes at the ICD coerce reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. Uganda’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2011 that LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo, on trial at the ICD, had a right to amnesty. The Kwoyelo trial resumed in 2016 after the Supreme Court overturned the decision.
 

Civil society advocacy

Uganda was the first situation opened by the ICC, but a lack of arrests has been a source of frustration for victims. However, civil society efforts, as well as those of international justice advocates in Uganda, combined with Dominic Ongwen’s January 2015 surrender and transfer to the ICC, have helped revitalize hope among LRA victims and provide an opportunity to see justice done at the ICC. 

Civil society continues to call for the national and international prosecution of government officials and armed forces suspected of committing grave international crimes during the course of the conflict.

Raising global awareness 

The role of civil society has been evolving in Uganda, with NGOs playing an increasingly active role in promoting international justice. Civil society was particularly important in investigating and documenting serious international crimes, advocating for perpetrators of such human rights violations to be brought to justice, and raising awareness for crimes committed by the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony. Over thirty civil society activists, religious leaders, and human rights defenders throughout the LRA-affected region helped campaign to raise awareness among regional leaders of the crucial need to recognize the LRA threat and the need to fully commit to meaningful and active cooperation to protect civilians. 

2010 Kampala Review Conference: Civil society brings stakeholders together
Ahead of the 2010 Kampala Review Conference, the Human Rights Network Uganda (HURINET-U), No Peace Without Justice, and the Ugandan Coalition for the ICC invited delegations from ICC member states to come to Uganda to meet with as wide as possible a range of stakeholders involved in justice and accountability efforts, peacebuilding, and the fight against impunity in the country. The meetings were intended to enhance the Review Conference’s stocktaking on the impact of the Rome Statute system on complementarity, cooperation, affected communities, and peace and justice, and to bring the ICC closer to the people affected by its work by creating spaces for direct interaction between ICC member states, affected communities, and other actors.
 

Campaign for global justice

ICC Rome Statute

Ratified/acceded (ICC member state)
14 June 2002

Kampala Amendments to Rome Statute

Crime of agression
Not ratified
Article 8
Not ratified

Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the ICC

Ratified
21 January 2009

National ICC legislation

Cooperation: 
In force
Complementarity (national prosecutions): 
In force (partial)