Uganda says top UN court singled out its army in DR Congo’s war case

By Jean-Pierre Afadhali

Uganda’s attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka

The International Court of Justice, a UN affiliated judicial organ has ordered Uganda to pay $325 million in reparations over damages caused by conflicts in Ituri province, a region Uganda occupied in late 90’s amid a highly devastating war in the Central African country.

In a statement issued today Uganda defended UPDF, the country’s armed forces saying its army was and remained disciplined wherever it has  operated.

However, evidence presented in the court suggests that Uganda is responsible for thousands of deaths, injuries, sexual assaults, rape, looting of natural resources such as gold, diamonds and timber during one of the deadliest armed conflicts on the continent.

DR Congo filed a case against Uganda in 1999.  Kinshasa had requested $ 11 billion compensations but some of its claims were dismissed leading to a relatively smaller amount than the initially requested. According the case judgement rendered on Thursday, the total amount of compensation awarded to Kinshasa includes US$225,000,000 for damage to persons, US$40,000,000 for damage to property, and US$60,000,000 for damage related to natural resources.

ICJ ordered the total sum is to be paid in annual instalments of US$65,000,000, due on 1 September of each year, from 2022 to 2026. The Court also decided that, should payment be delayed, post-judgment interest at an annual rate of 6 per cent on each instalment will accrue on any overdue amount from the day which follows the day on which the instalment was due.

Uganda’s attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka  has said in a statement that Kampala has noted the court decision adding the award is not as outrageous as the claims made. However, Kampala noted the decision did not meet the expected standards and singled out its armed forces.

“We challenge and reject the findings of wrongdoing on the part of UPDF which was singled out notwithstanding the acknowledgment by the court of the existence of so many belligerents in the conflict. The UPDF was and remained a disciplined force for good in all the countries it has operated in today,” Uganda’s Attorney General   said in a statement

While Kampala defended its army, the case judgment noted evidence that number of deaths attributable to Uganda falls in range of 10,000 to 15,000 persons.” Court will award compensation for loss of civilian lives as part of global sum for all damage to persons.” the judgement read

Other people in the war ravaged region Uganda’s forces occupied were injured but the number is not known. Evidence presented to Court suggest that several people were injured but the Court was unable to determine an approximate estimate of number of civilians injured.

“Available evidence confirms occurrence of significant number of injuries in many localities” noted the Judgment adding Court will award compensation for personal injuries as part of global sum for all damage to persons.

The Hague based court noted in its judgement the absence of adequate evidence of extent of material damage does not necessarily preclude award of compensation. Court may, on an exceptional basis, award compensation in the form of a global sum where the evidence leaves no doubt that an internationally wrongful act has caused a substantial injury, but does not allow a precise evaluation of the extent or scale of such injury.

Other crimes committed in the deadly conflicts in Ituri province include rape and sexual violence. The Court noted that sexual violence is frequently underreported and difficult to document.

“Impossible to derive even broad estimate of number of victims from the available evidence. Rape and other forms of sexual violence committed on large and widespread scale”. Court will award compensation for rape and sexual violence as part of global sum for all damage to persons, noted ICJ in its ruling that was highly awaited by both parties after more than a decade.

Since the invasion of DR Congo by its neighboring countries mainly Uganda and Rwanda in 1996, the eastern part of the mineral-rich country has been ravaged by violence. Kigali and Kampala argued that they followed rebels that would attack their countries, however, United Nations and other human rights organizations have documented alarming human rights violations committed in the region.

Despite the ruling in favor of DR Congo, some of its claims were dismissed due to the lack of sufficient evidence. The claim on macro-economic damage was rejected by the UN court.

“DRC has not demonstrated sufficiently direct and certain causal nexus between the conduct of Uganda and alleged macroeconomic damage — DRC has not provided a basis for arriving at even rough estimate of possible macroeconomic damage — Claim rejected.” Read a part of the judgement.

Total sum of US$325,000,000 awarded will be paid in five annual instalments of US$65,000,000. The Court is satisfied that total sum and terms of payment remain” within capacity of Uganda to pay; adding there’re no need” to consider the question whether account should be taken of financial burden imposed on responsible State.”

However, Uganda’s attorney further said that the court decision will not deter Kampala from continuing to engage Kinshasa to resolve the matter.

According to ICJ, the case concerning one of the most complex and deadliest armed conflicts on the African continent that involved numerous actors in conflict, including armed forces of various States and irregular forces, violation of fundamental principles and rules of international law, it was difficult to establish the course of events due to the passage of time.

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