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xplaining the (il) legality of Uganda’s Intervention in the current South SudanConflict

By Kasaija Phillip Apuuli


Continued from last issue



he SPLM national convention that would have discussed the leadership issue was postponed repeatedly. The events triggering the 15 December 2013 fighting have been aptly summarised by the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP): A major fissure within the SPLM … became apparent during planned meetings of the SPLM’s party leadership in December 2013. Senior members of the party pulled out of the conference, citing ‘undemocratic leadership’, while others held competing press conferences demanding action by Kiir. Following a leadership meeting on 15 December 2013, fighting broke out between Nuer and Dinka members of the presidential guard, claimed loyalty to either Machar or Kiir. The fighting spread to military headquarters, subsequently igniting clashes throughout Juba and in Unity and Jonglei States. Elsewhere it has been observed that the fighting followed a stormy meeting of the National Liberation Council (NLC), a key organ of the SPLM, at which pro-Machar and pro-Kiir factions failed to agree on the composition of a key body that would pick the party’s presidential candidate for the next elections. Subsequently, fighting broke out after an attempt to disarm predominantly Nuer members of the presidential guard. With the help of Ugandan troops, government forces wrested control of the towns of Bor, Bentiu and Malakal back from rebel troops. It is estimated by the International Crisis

Group (ICG) that the conflict has resulted in the death of over 10 000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands, with estimates indicating that more than 250 000 people have sought shelter in neighbouring countries and more than 800 000 have been internally displaced.


Background to Uganda’s intervention in South Sudan

Previous Uganda intervention in Sudan

It has been argued that Uganda has strong links to the SPLM/A, including decades of joint military deployments. By the time the National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) came to power in Uganda in 1986, the conflict between the Khartoum government and the SPLA/M had been raging for close to three years. The outbreak of a new civil war in the south and the formation of the SPLA/M was precipitated by President Gaafar Nimeiri abrogating the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement by dividing the south into three regions and imposing Islamic law on the whole country, including southern Sudan. When the NRM government came to power, it faced an insurgency in northern Uganda. The remnants of the defeated Ugandan army, which had taken refuge in Sudan, subsequently launched attacks on Uganda from their bases in Sudan. While the NRA was able to defeat a number of these militia groups using military and peace-talk strategies, including the Uganda People’s

Democratic Army (UPDA) and the Holy Spirit Movement (HSM) I and II, the most virulent insurgent group was the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony, which took root in northern Uganda.

Following the collapse of the peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government around 1993–4, the LRA started getting military assistance from the Khartoum government.

According to Andrew Natsios, the Khartoum government ‘armed and equipped the LRA’ and allowed it to maintain ‘a permanent military base in the Kit Valley’. Kevin Dunn notes that the Sudanese government was instrumental in ‘transforming [the] rag-tag group of rebels [of the LRA] into a coherent, well supplied military force, largely though training, sharing of logistics and the introduction of more powerful and sophisticated weaponry such as land mines and rocket propelled grenades.’ What prompted Khartoum’s support of the

LRA was the support that the NRM government had extended to the SPLA/M. Paul Omach has noted that the NRM government was sympathetic to the SPLA/M, and Mari Tripp states that on 29 March 1989, a secret military cooperation agreement was signed between Uganda and Garang committing Uganda to provide equipment and training to the SPLA, as well as passports for travel abroad. Uganda also committed to provide the SPLA with free passage through the country while conducting its operations.

In the wake of the failed peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government, and amid accusations of supporting each other’s dissidents, Uganda and Sudan broke off diplomatic relations in 1995. Subsequently, the NRM government intensified its support for the SPLA with, at one point, the group sharing military facilities with the Ugandan army. In addition, the Ugandan troops made periodic incursions into Sudan in pursuit of the LRA and two other Ugandan rebel groups, the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF) and the Uganda National Rescue Front II (UNRF), and also in support of the SPLA.

In 1999, the Sudan–Uganda peace process was initiated, following a request for assistance from The Carter Center (TCC) by President Yoweri Museveni. The process resulted in the signing of the December 1999 Nairobi Agreement, which led to the normalisation of relations between the two countries. In March 2002, the government of Sudan allowed the Ugandan army to pursue the LRA rebels into its territory in what was called Operation Iron Fist (OIF).

In July 2002, the Sudanese president announced that his country’s forces would actively cooperate in joint military actions with the Ugandan army against the LRA. The OIF had the effect of uprooting the LRA from its bases in South Sudan. The signing of the Comprehensive

Peace Agreement (CPA) between the SPLA/M and the Sudanese government in 2005 did not result in an end to the involvement of Ugandan troops in that part of Sudan. According to LeRiche and Arnold, ‘during the first years of the CPA’s interim period, Uganda was allowed to use its army, the UPDF, inside Southern Sudan to conduct counter-insurgency operations against the LRA. Following the failure of the LRA to sign the Juba peace agreement in 2008, the African Union (AU) launched the Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the LRA (RCI-LRA), under which Ugandan troops have been operating inter alia in South Sudan territory.

Current intervention

As mentioned in the introduction, in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of fighting in Juba, Uganda deployed a company of the UPDF to secure Juba International Airport to enable foreigners to evacuate from South Sudan. In Uganda’s army formation, a company consists of between 80 and 250 soldiers. However, as the conflict escalated, Ugandan troops were increased to the current estimated level of between 2 000 and 5 000 soldiers. The military support includes air support and tanks. The initial task of the UPDF was to secure vital infrastructure in Juba, such as the airport, in order to facilitate the evacuation of foreign persons caught up in the fighting. Museveni, in a letter to the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament explaining the intervention, stated that he deployed a small force to guard Juba airport. The legal framework under which Uganda deployed its troops is unknown, but Museveni stated that he had deployed the UPDF with the agreement of Kiir. When questions began to be asked on the legal framework under which Ugandan troops were operating in South Sudan, the government of Uganda concluded a Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) with the government of South Sudan, allowing the UPDF to operate on South Sudanese territory.


Uganda’s intervention explained

The government of Uganda has been at pains to explain its current intervention in South Sudan in legal terms. In the next section, I explain the legal grounds that have been advanced. Later on, I elucidate on the more persuasive economic reasons for the intervention. Ugandan officials have justified the intervention in South Sudan by arguing that it was done in accordance with international law. In this regard they have inter alia argued that: Uganda was invited by the legitimate government of South Sudan to ensure order; Uganda needed to evacuate its citizens caught up in the fighting; Uganda was requested by the UN Secretary-

General to intervene; and the regional organisation, IGAD, sanctioned the intervention. I test these reasons for their (il)legality against known international law principles.


Intervention on invitation

Uganda has sought to justify its intervention in the current conflict in South Sudan by claiming it was invited by the constitutional and legitimate government. However, in order to legally justify the intervention on this basis, it is important to note the different phases of the UPDF’s intervention in the conflict. The first phase entailed the deployment of the UPDF to protect the vital infrastructure of Juba in order to enable the evacuation of foreigners. The second phase entailed the UPDF fighting on the side of the Kiir government. The two phases raise different conclusions regarding the (il) legality of the intervention.

Regarding the first phase, in a letter to the Speaker of Parliament of Uganda on the intervention, Museveni stated: ‘I decided to deploy … a small force to guard Juba airport with the agreement of President Salva Kiir.’ This would suggest that the government of South Sudan invited the UPDF onto its territory.


To be continued tomorrow

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