PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni has held a telephone conversation with his Sudanese counterpart, Omar el-Bashir, over the ICC warrant of arrest. Bashir is invited for the Smart Partnership dialogue in Kampala, starting on July 26.
Olupot and Cyprian Musoke
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni has held a telephone conversation with his Sudanese counterpart, Omar el-Bashir, over the ICC warrant of arrest.
Bashir is invited for the Smart Partnership dialogue in Kampala, starting on July 26.
The ICC chief prosecutor, Moreno Ocampo, on a blitz visit on Monday, however, said Uganda, as a signatory to the Rome Statute which establishes the court, has an obligation to arrest the Sudanese president.
â€œThe two presidents spoke on how to solve this issue in a diplomatic manner,â€ James Mugume, the foreign ministry permanent secretary, said yesterday.
â€œThe President was sorry that the media made it appear that Bashir would be arrested upon arrival in Kampala.â€
Mugume explained that foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa was due to meet Bashir in Egypt, where both are attending the Non-Aligned Movement meeting, to deliver a message from Museveni.
The message says Uganda is committed to its obligations under the Rome Statute and to the Africa Union. This means that Uganda will wait for the outcome of the Mbeki committee before making a judgment on the indictment.
â€œWe hope this will be solved through diplomatic channels to avoid a diplomatic embarrassment,â€ Mugume added.
The same message was delivered to Parliament yesterday by Isaac Musumba, the Minister for Regional Cooperation.
â€œWhile we are mindful of our international obligations, we at the same time wish to avoid a possible diplomatic incident that may arise as a result of a visit by President Bashir at this point in time,â€ he told MPs.
â€œThe Government is, therefore, diplomatically engaging the government of the Sudan with a view to ensuring that while the invitation to President Bashir still stands, a possible diplomatic incident is avoided.â€
In July 2008, the ICC indicted Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ocampo issued the warrants of arrest in March 2009.
Uganda, as a state party to the Rome Statute, is â€œduty-bound to arrest and hand over anybody indicted by the ICC,â€ Musumba noted.
He, however, added that the Governmentâ€™s current stand is informed by the â€œintricate national, regional and international peace, security and stability dimensionsâ€. He mentioned the indictment of LRA leader, Joseph Kony, and his commanders, a case that was referred to the ICC by Uganda.
â€œHonourable members are aware that the indictment of President Bashir has been quite controversial given his status as a sitting head of state and the unprecedented nature of such a step.â€
Musumba said various reactions have ensued as a result of this landmark development, with the African Union setting up its own probe, chaired by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
â€œThe AU resolved that before it condemns or absolves President Bashir, it would need to make its own investigations,â€ he noted.
â€œUntil such a time and subject to the findings, it is diplomatically not appropriate to engage in acts of condemnations of President Bashir on one hand, and also unhelpful to appear to condone violations of the human rights of the people of Darfur on the other.â€
He told the House that the AU also requested the UN Security Council to defer the implementation of the arrest warrant for 12 months. Within this time frame, he said, it is believed that the Mbeki panel will have issued its report.
He pointed out that Uganda is further bound by the AU resolution in Sirte, Libya, saying state parties of the ICC should not cooperate with the world court in its pursuit to arrest Bashir.
In the debate that followed, MPs said the Government was caught between a rock and a hard place in trying to balance its regional and international obligations.
Mathias Kasamba, who chairs the defence and internal affairs committee, wondered how Uganda would avoid a diplomatic row when Bashir jets into the country. â€œAs incumbent chair of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), current president of the UN Security Council and signatory to the Rome Statute, how are you going to avoid this incident?â€ he asked.
Betty Amongi (Independent) observed that the ministerâ€™s statement was a diplomatic way of telling Bashir: â€œYour invitation still stands but donâ€™t honour it.â€
Reagan Okumu (FDC) wondered why the Government invited Bashir in the first place when it was aware of a possible diplomatic incident should he come.
â€œBashir is instrumental in the CPA and if Southern Sudan is not stable, Uganda will not be stable. While we think international, we should also think local and regional,â€ he said.
MPs Onyango Kakoba and Stephen Tashobya, both NRM, called for the strict execution of the arrest warrants against Bashir if he comes.
The opposition UPC also called upon the Government to arrest Bashir. The party said it would serve as a warning to African leaders that they must learn to account for their actions.
â€œThe arrest should be carried out since it will be a good lesson for despotic leaders on the continent,â€ said UPC secretary general Chris Opoka during the weekly press briefing.
Additional reporting by Darious Magara
Museveni calls Bashir over ICC arrest