Check against delivery!
Thank you Mr President,
Let me start with something that does not relate directly to the issue we discuss today.
Every month we meet to discuss about human rights violations and to take action. And I think it is important to say a few words on the system that we have built together to assess human rights violations and ensure accountability, and to bring perpetrators to justice. Because today the existence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is being questioned and I think it is important to say in this hemicycle - formally and clearly - that it is not questioned by the European Union and that we will continue to strongly and fully support the ICC and its work.
I know that this is the strong position of this Parliament and of all our Member States. Because we remember very well when 20 years ago, finally the Statute of the ICC was ratified. We remember very well that after Rwanda and the war in the Balkans, the world needed real change.
And we all know that the International Criminal Court has brought that change. It has strengthened universal justice, beyond power politics and beyond geopolitical interests. It has made clear that justice is not an enemy of reconciliation, but rather the contrary: It is the basis for reconciliation. It is when the victims feel powerless, when crimes are met with impunity, that reconciliation is much harder to achieve. Accountability is essential to build the foundations for peace.
The Court may not be perfect. But the best way forward is not to dismantle our global institutions. The way forward for us is to make them stronger, and build a stronger and more effective multilateral system. This is why, once again – and I want to state it very clearly and very strongly in this room - the European Union will continue to be a strong supporter of the ICC and I count on your support in this work that is ahead of us in this field.
Coming on the issue of this point on the agenda: On 13 August, as most of you have mentioned, at least 35 people were arrested in the Arua district in the northwest of Uganda, immediately before a local by-election.
Among the people arrested were also four Members of the Parliament belonging to the opposition.
In the following days, various Ugandan sources reported brutal treatment inflicted to the detainees by security forces, including Members of the Parliament.
The EU Delegation and Member States' Ambassadors on the ground followed the situation extremely closely and issued a joint a joint statement on 17 August calling upon all forces in Uganda to respect the rule of law and individual rights.
We got the authorisation by the military authorities, our Delegation and the European Ambassadors could visit two of them: Bobi Wine [Robert Kyagulany, Member of Parliament of Uganda] in the military barracks where he was detained and also Francis Zaake [Member of Parliament of Uganda] in the hospital where he was undergoing treatment.
Both Members of the Parliament had several wounds and needed comprehensive medical treatment. In that perspective, they were eventually authorised to leave the country at the beginning of September. However, they are still facing treason charges.
An investigation on the alleged abuses has been launched by the police; the Speaker of the Parliament decided to set up an ad hoc committee in order to deal with this issue. Finally, a report of the Ugandan Human Rights Commission is also expected.
We will wait for the conclusions of these investigations. But let me state once again very clearly that security forces have a duty to respect everyone’s freedom to peacefully demonstrate for their opinions. The allegations of torture are serious, and if confirmed, perpetrators must be prosecuted and victims should obtain redress.
Uganda has, unfortunately, a long history of violence and conflict. And we know very well that its people deserve some peace, and the right to peacefully express their opinions.
We have made this position very clear to the Ugandan government, and we will continue to engage so that responsibilities can be established and perpetrators are brought to justice.