The Chief of Defence Forces has today 16th January 2024 held a bilateral meeting with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the Ministry of Defence and Veteran Affairs Offices, in Mbuya-Kampala.
The meeting focused on improving the working relationship between the UPDF and the international humanitarian body that has been operating in Uganda since 1971.
In his remarks, Mr. Christoph Sutter, the ICRC Head of Regional delegation pointed out that ICRC values its relationship with Uganda and was happy to note that Kampala hosts the regional office that covers Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. “We are happy to have made the choice of Kampala for the regional office because it allows us to interact closely with our ICRC colleagues in DRC, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.” Mr Sutter said.
He explained that the gist of their meeting with the UPDF Chief of Defence Forces was to seek advice on how best ICRC can improve its activities, especially in engaging with UPDF and the Government of Uganda to promote international humanitarian law that cherishes impartiality, neutrality and independence in the region and to systematically seek to have a bilateral and confidential dialogue with authorities in charge.
“We always value the advice of Uganda and the analysis that Uganda can share with us on the regional dynamics on what is happening in these countries, especially in Eastern DRC,” the head of the regional delegation added.
He further explained that ICRC values discretion rather than public positioning as a feature that is valued by Uganda authorities. He expressed his strong conviction that ICRC is carrying out much-required activities in DRC especially to restore links of children separated by armed conflicts with their parents as well as family-to-family reunion.
The international body also carries out training activities and re-deployment preparation of the UPDF deployed in conflict areas. Additionally, the ICRC also interacts with local organisations for example the water project with National Water and Sewerage Cooperation (NWSC) in Kisoro which is a huge project offered by the international community.
He expressed appreciation for the good collaboration with UPDF especially CMI’s permission for them to access detainees, find minors lost in DRC, trace their families and reintegrate the children with them. He was very happy about his organisation’s collaboration with UPDF in managing refugees in Kisoro.
He reminded the meeting that ICRC would soon finalise a Memorandum of Understanding with UPDF on their operations and interaction with their colleagues in the DRC. He was appreciative of how UPDF values the ICRC presence in Uganda.
In response to the issues raised by the ICRC regional head, Gen Wilson Mbasu Mbadi the Chief of Defence Forces expressed satisfaction that for the time ICRC has collaborated with UPDF in the observance of humanitarian law, they have always coordinated well on what they plan to do, and sought for the same information flow in Eastern DRC where operation Shujaa is ongoing.
He explained that Congo is a sovereign country independent of Uganda. “Congo is not our country. We are only there to fight a common enemy against whom the two countries met and agreed to a joint operation”, the CDF stated.
He was quick to add that ICRC can always reach out to the nearest UPDF leadership in Operation Shujaa for any notifications such as movement of their aircraft across areas of Joint operations and Vehicles passing through UPDF Unit deployments in DRC.
He was happy to note that since Operation Shujaa the situation in Eastern Congo is better. In Boga and Chabi in Ituri province, the locals had disbanded the UN camp and decided to return to their homes, re-opened schools, churches and gardens.
He noted that children captured and forcefully recruited and radicalised were happy to return home. Those liberated are very appreciative of the UPDF for the new peace they now enjoy.
The CDF advised the ICRC to use the fastest way to notify UPDF of the activities they plan to carry out in the conflict zones and wished the UN could do the same. “Notify the commanders on ground who will seek clearance from the UPDF leadership where they find it challenging”, he emphasised.
The CDF wondered if ADF were mentally sick in their concept of radicalisation based on religion which makes it hard for dialogue as there is no one to talk to. “The only option to stop such terrorist groups from continuing to kill people especially children is to destroy them since it is difficult to know what they are fighting for, whether their war can be justified or not.” He reiterated.
On the issue of South African and SADC troops in DRC the CDF stated that DRC was in a better position to explain this presence but was quick to note that more troops means the country is ready for an armed Conflict, people are disturbed more and Uganda shall have more refugees. He asked ICRC to prepare more facilities in Kisoro and Kabanda for obvious reasons.
Asked about arrests and detentions of errant UPDF in the DRC, the CDF explained that all soldiers in the UPDF are regulated by the UPDF Act and the MoU with DRC. “Any soldier that deviates from the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and engages in acts like rape, killing etc is handled by the law. Luckily, enough soldiers deployed on such missions are subjected to pre-deployment training where even IHL is part of the curriculum. The UPDF Act and MoU with the DRC regulate the conduct of officers and provide rules of engagement”.
“Even with the ADF we differentiate between the misleaders and misled especially children forcefully conscripted or persuaded on lies. We don’t kill those who surrender. ADF leader Njovu who was captured alive is in our prisons. However, we cannot avoid having a few errant individuals who we have handled and continue to handle with our law and vibrant justice system,” Mbadi said.
The CDF stated that International Humanitarian law was now in the school curriculum highlighting the dos and don’ts in war and conflict areas. He encouraged the ICRC to continue contact with the UPDF, which was already doing very well.
On the issue of Prisoners Of War captured in DRC, Gen Mbadi explained that those needed by DRC Government are handed over to the Government, and for those that Uganda is interested in, Uganda seeks permission from DRC to bring them to Uganda Prisons and justice system, depending on the interest of the joint operation and the same courtesy is reciprocated where DRC government has an interest in those we capture on the Ugandan side.
“We don’t work to impress we are in for peace and stability in our country and interventions that will bring peace and security in the region. We cannot be an enclave of peace in a sea of hostility”, Gen Mbadi explained.
The CDF thanked the ICRC for being a group that focuses on neutrality, impartiality and for realising that they are here in an independent state which has its interests. “If you continue with the three principles ICRC will continue to be Uganda’s friend because Uganda says what it means and means what it says”, the CDF added. He encouraged the ICRC to continue talking to UPDF through the UPDF spokesperson to be able to have the correct position of the force on any issue.
In attendance were: Maj Gen Ambrose Musinguzi Chief of Medical Services, Maj Gen Henry Matsiko the UPDF Chief Political Commissar, Brig Tingira Irumba the Chief of Planning, Strategy and Operation, Col Deo Akiiki Deputy Defence Spokesperson, Col Mbaine the Assistant Deputy Chief of Military intelligence, Maj David Epalu who represented the Chief of Legal Services, while ICRC personnel included Ms. FiipaNeto Marqus ICRC Regional Protection Coordinator and Mr. Ntabazi Gerorge the ICRC Political Advisor who accompanied the ICRC Regional Coordinator.