KAMPALA – The Judiciary of Uganda in collaboration with the Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF) has launched Judicial Bench Book (JBB) on the criminal adjudication of international crimes in Uganda.
The book which is aimed at guiding the handling of international crimes in Uganda was spearheaded by the late Justice Elizabeth Nahamya.
Irene Anying, Country Director, ASF said that the launch of the book is a landmark contribution to Uganda’s legal action on holding the perpetrators of international crimes accountable but also to deliver redress to victims of international crimes.
Uganda ratified and domesticated the Rome Statute in June 2010 by enacting the International Criminal Court Act of 2010, a commitment that has been demonstrated through the establishment of Uganda’s International Crimes Division.
This, Anying says is an important milestone that creates a mechanism and allows domestic trials for perpetrators of international crimes, including, among others, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Uganda’s territory.
“The prosecution of international crimes is much needed to ensure that the crimes are prosecuted fairly adequately, and with particular sensitivity to the rights of victims on the one hand, the accused persons on the other hand.”
Ms. Sarah Kasande Kihika, Head of Office – International Center for Transitional Justice – ICTJ Uganda revealed that the development was a joint effort by the ICTJ and ASF in collaboration with the Judicial Training Institute with support of the Austrian Development Agency and the Belgian Government.
“This process began way back in 2018 following discussions between ICTJ and ASF, on how to provide long term and sustainable support to the judiciary, specifically the ICD.”
This collaboration, she said builds on the previous process, where they contributed to the development of the ICD Rules of Procedure and evidence upon which they realized that there was need for further support to support the process of the ICD.
“Recognizing that the prosecution of international crimes is a specialized area that requires expertise to ensure crimes are prosecuted with fairness, effectively and with sensitivity to victims’ rights and fair trial rights of the accused, ICTJ and ASF had in the past, convened several trainings for judicial officers and legal practitioners.”
However, she noted that there has been frequent transfer but also promotion of judges who had acquired expertise in these areas which creates a vacuum.
“So this way, we realized that instead of having regular periodic training, we would rather have a resource reference that newly assigned judicial officers and legal practitioners and prosecutors could refer to as a quick reference point when handling cases of international crimes,” she said.
Ms. Kihika revealed that the book has benefited from the jurisprudents from the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, among others.
“We believe that the JBB will be an asset to the ICD and the development of international criminal law in Uganda. It will help court users and judicial officers navigate the complex procedures at the ICD.”
Dr. Katja Kerschbaumer – Head Office, Austrian Development Cooperation, Uganda noted that access to justice is very key but the ICD would rather find it difficult to deliver its mandate.
“Until recently, domestic courts rarely prosecuted people accused of committing international crimes. The concept of complementarity establishes the reach of the ICC and sets out the boundaries between the ICC and the domestic courts. At the heart of this principle is the understanding that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community must be prosecuted at the national level.”
She gave an example of the first trial in the ICD, of Thomas Kwoyelo, a former colonel in the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, who has been in jail for thirteen years and the hearing is still ongoing.
“This bench book is therefore a much-needed resource that will bolster the capacity of the ICD to deliver justice effectively. The bench book incorporates international standards for the investigation and prosecution of war crimes. This is indeed a positive step towards harmonizing the response to some of the challenges faced by the ICD such as the complex nature of investigations.”
Dr. Flavian Zeija, Principal Judge, Uganda noted that the book should have launched yesterday because normally, the judges on the ICD do not know exactly what to do.
“I will tell you that the lawyers and judges as well do not understand this procedure. When you post a judge in this division, they come to me and say, My Lord now you are posting me but I don’t even know what to do.”
He noted that the judicial bench book on the practice and procedures for the education of international crimes in Uganda is one of the effective countermeasures to demystifying the complexities in investigating, prosecuting and trying international crimes.
He is optimistic it will serve as a very helpful tool for practitioners and judges to efficiently adjudicate the matters before the ICD with utmost mindfulness of the rights of the victims of crime.
PJ encouraged court users to utilize the book and apply the best practices and standards on international criminal procedure and practice drawn from various experiences and jurisprudence of the International Criminal tribunals.
“I also hope that this bench book will trigger a meaningful debate on the existing prosecutorial gaps and how to address them.”