Uganda rejects ICJ’s $325m award to DRC, says they are already working together

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Thursday, 10 February 2022 18:26, updated on Friday, 11 February 2022 13:58

Ugandan soldiers who have been fighting Ugandan rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the past three years, cross back into Uganda, Monday, Oct. 15, 2001 at the Mpondwe border point between Uganda and DRC, after walking some 700 kilomet/SIP
Ugandan soldiers who have been fighting Ugandan rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the past three years, cross back into Uganda, Monday, Oct. 15, 2001 at the Mpondwe border point between Uganda and DRC. (AP Photo/Chris Mamu)

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has finally come out with its judgement on the DRC versus Uganda case, with Kampala ordered to pay $325m to Kinshasa for its role in the conflict there.

On Thursday 10 February, the ICJ ruled that Uganda had indeed violated international norms as an occupying force between 1998 and 2003. The court also found that Uganda was responsible for the deaths of 10,000 to 15,000 people in the Eastern Ituri region, and that troops from the East African country were guilty of looting gold, diamonds and timber.

In 1999, the DRC’s then Head of State Laurent Kabila took Uganda to the ICJ, but attempts at reaching an agreement failed. Subsequently, in 2005, the court directed the two countries to discuss the compensation amount. They still couldn’t reach an agreement, prompting the DRC to again petition the court, which is what led to Thursday’s award of $325m that was enumerated as follows:

  • $225m for damage to persons
  • $40m for damage to property
  • $60m for damage related to natural resources

However, the award is a paltry 3% of the $11bn that the DRC had demanded and comes at a time when the two countries have a ‘warmer’ relationship. Uganda is building roads in Eastern DRC and the government says it will be investing $70m in the project.

Additionally, armies from the two countries have joined forces in the war against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), even though the cost of fighting this Islamist rebel group is yet to be revealed. The Ugandan government’s $25m request for the operation was rejected by parliament in January this year.

Uganda’s Attorney General Kiwanuka Kiryowa tells The Africa Report that the country has been engaging with the DRC to foster a “brotherly and fraternal relationship” between the two countries. “We will address not only the matters relating to this case, but all matters relating to our co-existence as African brothers,” he says.

When asked whether Uganda will pay the award or request the DRC to forgo it based on the joint infrastructure and security initiatives, Kiryowa declined to answer.

Judgement ‘not fair’

Though the award is not as much as the DRC had demanded, Kiryowa criticises the ICJ judgement saying it doesn’t “meet the standard of fairness that Uganda expected”. He says Uganda rejects the court’s finding of wrongdoing with regards to the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF).

Kiryowa describes the ruling as a “failure to understand or appreciate Africa matters and makes no contribution to efforts at resolving, on our own, the current security issues that persist”.

In its ruling, the ICJ referred to its 2005 findings that “officers and soldiers of the UPDF, including the most high-ranking officers, [had been] involved in the looting, plundering and exploitation of the DRC’s natural resources and that the military authorities [had] not take[n] any measures to put an end to these acts”.

The ministry of foreign affairs also released a statement saying the judgement does not inspire confidence in the court as a credible and fair arbiter of international disputes. The ministry said it’s regrettable that the ruling comes at a time when “Uganda is doing all in its means to assist and work with DRC in different areas including security, infrastructure, regional integration, etc”.

Several countries were party to the conflict, such as Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Angola. Kabila invited the latter two to repulse rebels, with support from Uganda and Rwanda, who were advancing toward the DRC’s capital city Kinshasa in 1998.

Kampala has argued that it shouldn’t be obliged to pay for whatever went wrong. “[This] is because Uganda has always believed in the international system and hence agreed to subject itself to the jurisdiction of ICJ,” the ministry of foreign affairs said.

Kasaija Phillip Apuuli, an international relations lecturer at Makerere University, tells The Africa Report that though the court did not consider recent initiatives by Uganda or improved diplomatic relations between the two states, its judgement is binding and not appealable.

Can it deter looting of Congo minerals?

Kasaija also says the ruling will not stop looting of Congo minerals, especially by rebel groups operating in Eastern part of the country. However, for state actors, it will be a reminder of the heavy price they can pay if they engage in looting. “In the case of Uganda, which is engaged in [the] DRC right now, the ruling might act as a deterrence so that the current operation does not end up plundering.”

Christoph Vogel, author of the book Conflict Minerals Inc: War Profit and White Saviourism in Eastern Congo (to be published later this year), tells The Africa Report that there is doubt over the value of the ICJ ruling.

However, “considering [that] the [impact] of a larger [award] on the Ugandan population, [which] is not necessarily approving […] its government’s military adventures abroad, [this could be why] the court may have been lenient”, he says.

Vogel adds that the ICJ is only limited to interstate arbitration, even though mining in eastern Congo is a sector dominated by actors who cannot be linked to any state, and those who operate in ways that give governments plausible deniability when it comes to criminal offences.

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