Global court targets Uganda cult in first case

Reuters/October 6, 2005
By Evelyn Leopold

United Nations - The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for five leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan cult notorious for raping, maiming and killing children, a U.N. official said on Thursday.

The warrants are the first issued by the ICC, based in The Hague. The tribunal, which began functioning in mid-2003, is the world's first permanent global court set up to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"I know they have issued arrest warrants for five people," said William Lacy Swing, the American diplomat who heads the U.N. mission in the Congo.

In Kampala, Minister of Internal Affairs Ruhakana Rugunda told Reuters: "I have no specific information on whether warrants have been issued or not. All I can say is, if they have been issued, it would not be a surprise to me at all."

A spokesman for the ICC in The Hague declined to comment.

Swing told a news conference that notifications went out last week to the governments of Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a remnant of the LRA took refuge last month.

Nineteen years of warfare by the LRA, led by a Christian mystic, Joseph Kony, has devastated northern Uganda and uprooted more than 1.6 million people. More than 10,000 children have been kidnapped by the rebels, based in the Sudan, and forced to become fighters, labourers and sex slaves.

Swing said he could not reveal the names of the five. But Kony is certain to be among them.

Richard Dicker, an attorney for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the arrest warrants gave the victims of LRA crimes a first opportunity for justice.

"It stamps the accused, not just as people associated with horrific acts, but as indicted war criminals by an international court. That has not happened before," he said.

Dicker said the indictments were a first step and needed the cooperation of governments.

He said he hoped that the ICC prosecutor, Argentine Luis Moreno-Ocampo, would not limit himself to crimes committed by the LRA but look into abuses by the Ugandan army. The military is accused by human rights groups of beating and killing civilians they were supposed to protect from the LRA.

Kony is believed to be hiding in the mountains of southern Sudan. He was originally given support by the Sudanese military during its conflict with Uganda.

The LRA received international notoriety in 1996 when it abducted 152 teenage girls from St. Mary's College, a boarding school in northern Uganda. Nuns pursued 200 armed men and 109 girls were released while "the prettiest" were taken as "wives."

Unlike other tribunals, the ICC has no time limit. Its indictments remain in force until the suspect is tried, dies or runs out of hiding places.

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