The U.S. delegation to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's inauguration walked out of Thursday's ceremony in protest against his disparaging comments about an international war crimes tribunal and the presence of Sudan's leader, whom the court has indicted, the State Department said.
Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac and a visiting Washington-based official, along with several European and Canadian diplomats, abruptly left the inauguration after Museveni made negative remarks about the International Criminal Court in his inaugural address. She added that the U.S. also objected to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's participation in the inauguration. Al-Bashir has been charged by the court for atrocities in Sudan's western Darfur region.
Trudeau did not identify the European or Canadian diplomats involved. She said Museveni's comments were "insulting" to both the court and to victims of war crimes and genocide.
"We believe that walking out in protest is an appropriate reaction to a head of state mocking efforts to ensure accountability for victims of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, particularly when his country has committed to accountability as a state party to the Rome Statute" that established the court, she said.
In his address, Museveni called the court "a bunch of useless people" and said he no longer supports it. Uganda is a member of The Hague-based International Criminal Court and as such is obligated to detain and turn over suspects wanted by the tribunal. The United States is not a member of the court, but supports it and has called on other countries to live up to their commitments under the treaty that created it.
The walkout was preceded by expressions of concern about al-Bashir's presence from the U.S. delegation to Uganda's prime minister and foreign minister, Trudeau said. She added that the delegation decided to attend the inauguration despite al-Bashir's attendance out of respect for U.S.-Ugandan bilateral relations, but made the decision to leave after Museveni's remarks.
Al-Bashir faces two ICC indictments for atrocities linked to the conflict in Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have died and 2 million have been displaced since 2003, according to U.N. figures. He rejects the ICC's authority and had been able to travel relatively freely in Africa and the Middle East — even to countries like Uganda and South Africa that are parties to the Rome Statute and are required to carry out ICC arrest warrants. Al-Bashir also recently attended the inauguration of Djibouti's president, an event attended by U.S. officials.