Congo Plunder Case: Ignore Uganda’s Calls for Death Certificates, ICJ Told

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Debarati Guha-Sapir, the Director of Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster (CRED) and a Professor at University of Louvain School of Public Health, in Brussels has urged International Court of Justice (ICJ) to ignore arguments by Uganda that Democratic Republic of Congo must produce evidence such as death certificates in its claim for compensation.

Sapir, a UN expert whose report has been relied on by DRC to demand compensation, told ICJ yesterday that in conflict areas, death certificates are always a pipe dream. In DRC, she argued that institutions that record death were non-existent.  

She also told court that at the time in contention of the 1997-2003 war, there were no incentives for people to go and record death because it would bring “no benefit.”

According to documents with ICJ, the DRC has sought about US$4.3 billion for 180,000 alleged civilian deaths that it asserts were caused by wrongful acts attributable to Uganda. According to the DRC, 40,000 of these deaths resulted from “deliberate acts of violence” against the population in Ituri, while another 140,000 resulted from “situations other than those of deliberate acts of violence” in Ituri, Kisangani and elsewhere.  

For each of these 40,000 deaths purportedly resulting from deliberate violence, the DRC claims US$34,000 per victim. For each of the other 140,000 alleged deaths, the DRC claims a different amount: just over US$18,900 per victim. 

But lawyers representing Uganda have been arguing that DRC must provide indisputable evidence such as death certificates showing that Uganda soldiers were responsible for these deaths.

Lawrence Martin, one of the many lawyers representing Uganda told court on Thursday: “None of these figures ⎯ whether those relating to the alleged number of deaths or the quantum of compensation sought ⎯ is supported by any evidence; the DRC’s claims concerning the number of deaths Uganda allegedly caused are, with respect, a house of conjecture built atop a foundation of speculation.”

Sean Murphy, a Professor of International Law at George Washington University Law School, is representing Uganda argued that DRC based its compensation claim on broad observations made by the court in 2005 when it ruled that Uganda armed forces violated human right law which caused harm to persons and property as well as a broad conclusion that there was the exploitation of DRC’s natural resources. He said:     

“That assertion about the inability to gather evidence relating to war is demonstrably untrue. Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait did not prevent victims or their families from identifying to the UN compensation commission the names of those who died.”   

The ICJ on Tuesday reopened the proceedings of the 2005 case Uganda lost to Congo after the two countries failed to agree on compensation figure. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi soldiers helped DRC’s late President Laurent Kabila ascend to power in 1997, overthrowing dictator Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga. 

As Kabila settled in office, he disagreed with the foreign forces that helped him capture power.Consequently, he asked them to leave. When Uganda and Rwanda declined to withdraw, Kabila sued them at the ICJ for alleged invasion.  Uganda argued that its military’s presence and activities in DRC were, for the most part, based on an invitation and were authorized by the Congolese administration.

When Uganda lost the case in 2005, DRC’s lawyers argued for a reparation figure of US$10 billion which was awarded. However, the court asked the two parties to get together and come up with a figure that is agreeable to both because Uganda protested the claims. 

 Unclear is when and how Congo ended claiming $23 billion which it has now reduced to $13.5 billion as per Byaruhanga’s presentati

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