The cost of war: DRC seeks £10 billion from Uganda

22 December 2005
Comment

Is anyone following the judgement of the International Court of Justice on Uganda’s activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

This is an extraordinary story, which I first noticed on the BBC website. The BBC reported that the International Court of Justice had found Uganda guilty of looting and human rights abuses in DRC, and that DRC was claiming $US 10bn in compensation.

The ICJ is a United Nations body, whose judgements are ‘final, binding and without appeal’. An account of what the Court is and how it works is on its website. The full details of the judgement are on its website. Some key extracts from the press release issued by the ICJ are reproduced below. Note that the compensation amount is not specified, but that the Court has the right to impose an amount if the parties cannot agree.

The amount the DRC has claimed is, of course, enormous. $US 10 bn is equivalent to 1 year’s GDP in Uganda.  The national budget is $US 2 bn.  Paying $10bn off over 30 years would amount to about $1bn a year with a 4% interest rate. One Ugandan newspaper has commented as follows:

'Given the fact that Uganda's foreign debt stands at over $4 billion, (the recently announced debt relief can take several years to implement, according to donor sources) the amount the country would have to compensate the DRC would treble the total debt burden.

Currently Uganda spends about $200 million per year to service the debt, and at that rate would need 50 years to pay off the Congo fine without paying any of the other creditors.

If all Uganda's tax and non-tax revenue totaling to $700 million per year were to be devoted to paying off the Congo fine, it would take the country 14 years without the government buying a single aspirin or paying a single worker.

Seen another way, the amount Congo wants in compensation is enough to build at least 20 power dams of Bujagali's size. Consequently, each of the 27 million Ugandans, including babies in the IDP camps in the north must contribute Shs680,000 to the compensation bill. Added to the existing debt, every Ugandan would now be owing a million shillings to external creditors.’

The political ramifications may be significant, not least in the light of the recent decisions by UK, Norway, Netherlands, Ireland and Sweden  to suspend some aid for other reasons, linked to the internal political situation (See also http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1672278,00.html#article_continue).


Uganda is said to ‘respect’ the ICJ decision  

It is also important to note that the DRC was found guilty of mistreating Ugandan diplomats.

Some extracts from the Press Release issued by the ICJ follow. There is much more detail in the Press Release and in the full judgement.

The Court

1.          Finds that the Republic of Uganda, by engaging in military activities against the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the latter’s territory, by occupying Ituri and by actively extending military, logistic, economic and financial support to irregular forces having operated on the territory of the DRC, violated the principle of non-use of force in international relations and the principle of non-intervention;

2.          Finds admissible the claim submitted by the Democratic Republic of the Congo relating to alleged violations by the Republic of Uganda of its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the course of hostilities between Ugandan and Rwandan military forces in Kisangani;

3.          Finds that the Republic of Uganda, by the conduct of its armed forces, which committed acts of killing, torture and other forms of inhumane treatment of the Congolese civilian population, destroyed villages and civilian buildings, failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets and to protect the civilian population in fighting with other combatants, trained child soldiers, incited ethnic conflict and failed to take measures to put an end to such conflict;  as well as by its failure, as an occupying Power, to take measures to respect and ensure respect for human rights and international humanitarian law in Ituri district, violated its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law;

4.          Finds that the Republic of Uganda, by acts of looting, plundering and exploitation of Congolese natural resources committed by members of the Ugandan armed forces in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and by its failure to comply with its obligations as an occupying Power in Ituri district to prevent acts of looting, plundering and exploitation of Congolese natural resources, violated obligations owed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo under international law;

 5.         Finds that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by the conduct of its armed forces, which attacked the Ugandan Embassy in Kinshasa, maltreated Ugandan diplomats and other individuals on the Embassy premises, maltreated Ugandan diplomats at Ndjili International Airport, as well as by its failure to provide the Ugandan Embassy and Ugandan diplomats with effective protection and by its failure to prevent archives and Ugandan property from being seized from the premises of the Ugandan Embassy, violated obligations owed to the Republic of Uganda under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961;

I don’t want to comment on this story. But how should we read it? What might the implications be?

Authors

Senior Research Associate
Simon is an economist who began his career working overseas, first in Kenya and India for the UN [...]