War Crime: Why Did Idi Amin Never Face Trial?

War Crime: Why Did Idi Amin Never Face Trial?

General Idi Amin Dada has been commonly ranked as one of the world’s most evil men along with Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden and others. He has been often described as a very eccentric character based on his buffoonery behaviour. The dictatorship of Idi Amin began in 1971 when he appointed himself as President of Uganda after a military coup d’etat, which forced President Milton Obote out of the country.

The regime under Idi Amin lasted for eight years and resulted in an estimated massacre of 400,000 people. In his time of ruling, Idi Amin committed numerous human rights abuses and war crimes. Tanzanians and Ugandan exiles eventually took over the capital city of Uganda, Kampala and managed to defeat Idi Amin. He was forced to flee the country and lived in Saudi Arabia until 2003 when he died of organ failure. Idi Amin was never held accountable for the horrific crimes he committed.

Technically, Idi Amin should have been prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for the war crimes he committed. The International Criminal Court was set up by the international community to prosecute people like Idi Amin who abuse their authority and commit the most serious and unthinkable crimes. The International Criminal Court is governed by the Rome Statute treaty which was adopted in 1998 and entered into force in 2002. The list of what are considered to be war crimes are listed in the Rome Statute under Article 8, these include:
• Wilful killing
• Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to bodily health
• Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities
• Committing outrages personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.

There is an extensive list outlining the range of war crimes, this is only a glimpse of some of the war crimes listed under Article 8 of the Rome Statute. From what has been documented in history, it is more than clear that Idi Amin violated most of these crimes.

Brief account of atrocities committed by Idi Amin

During the time of his rule, he ordered the public execution of anyone that he suspected was against his regime. He supposedly kept the heads of his victims that he had ordered to be killed in his fridge and allegedly ate some of their body parts. There was also an eradication of the Asian population within Uganda and cruel methods of slaughter were used, such as using sledgehammers to kill people. Most of the murders were done in public and executions by firing squad were displayed on television. Uganda literally turned into a bloodbath during this time, dead bodies were notoriously found in the Nile having floated there from Uganda.

There was clearly enough evidence to summon Idi Amin to face prosecution in the International Criminal Court. Article 5 of the Rome statute states that the court only holds jurisdiction for ‘the most serious crimes of concern to the international community’. In this case it was beyond doubt that the crimes that Idi Amin committed constituted as serious. Furthermore, the massive death toll surely raises moral obligations on other states to take some sort of action.

According to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I of 1977, it is the primary responsibility for the state in question to prosecute people for war crimes. In that sense, the International Criminal Court is only to be used as an alternative when that primary responsibility fails. In this case, at the time of Idi Amin’s reign it would have been impossible for the state of Uganda to put him on trial; his behaviour instilled fear upon his citizens, they would not have taken the risk of taking a stand against him. Even after Idi Amin had fled Uganda, national prosecution proceedings would have only taken place once he was back on Ugandan soil. Furthermore, the country was still in an emotionally volatile state and in physical ruins. The judicial system would have been in no stable state to carry out these proceedings.

Therefore, since the primary responsibility of the state failed, this would mean that the International Criminal Court had the duty to take action. The function of the International Criminal Court as a complementary authority was to take over the prosecution of Idi Amin for his war crimes.

The other alternative would have been to bring grounds for prosecution at the request of the United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. It is inexcusable that Idi Amin was never prosecuted given the fact that there were a number of different options to bring him to trial.

Idi Amin spent the rest of his life in sanctuary in Saudi Arabia while his victims and their families were left with trauma and, a long journey of recovery. The nature of his crimes provides conclusive evidence that he was more than guilty. Instead it seems that he got a free get out of jail card. A case like this places great pressure on the future for the International Criminal Court and Rome Statute to work effectively to prevent similar outcomes.

The International Criminal Court is currently being questioned about why the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not being prosecuted for his war crimes. This is the right time for the International Criminal Court to use it functions and fulfil its purpose.

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