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UN chief takes to soccer pitch to pay tribute to war crimes survivors

UN chief takes to soccer pitch to pay tribute to war crimes survivors

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Museveni of Uganda play football as part of War Victims Day
Taking part in a soccer match today in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, honouring the victims of war, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon celebrated the dignity of survivors of war crimes and other atrocities.

“You experienced unspeakable atrocities but you never were crushed. Instead of being crushed, you fought back. Instead of giving up, you regained your dignity,” Mr. Ban said.

He took part in a 10-minute match, but his side – called Justice – lost 1-0 to Dignity, a team led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

The Secretary-General said it is only on the football field that he and Mr. Museveni are opponents. In the international arena, he said, the Ugandan leader is a strong supporter of both the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Uganda is one of the five countries where the ICC is investigating war crimes. The Court issued arrest warrants for Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen – leaders of the notorious rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) – in 2005 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and enlistment of children through abduction.

Victims from these five nations participated in today's soccer match, which took place on the eve of the first review conference of the ICC in Kampala, which the Secretary-General will preside over.

So far 111 countries have become parties to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, while 37 others have signed but not yet ratified it. But some of the world's largest and most powerful countries, including China, India, Russia and the United States, have not joined.

Perpetrators of war crimes “must know there is no impunity, no safe place to hide from crimes against humanity,” Mr. Ban said, accepting the first Justitia Award on behalf of the UN at an event in Kampala today.

“From the tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to the UN-assisted tribunals in Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Lebanon, we are among the pioneers for a new body of law – international criminal justice,” he said.

The ICC, the Secretary-General, is “the heir to this rich legacy,” stressing that the UN is proud to be a close partner of the Court.

“If the ICC is to have the reach it should possess, if it is to become an effective deterrent as well as an avenue of justice, it must have universal support,” Mr. Ban wrote in an opinion column published last week in the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, calling on all nations to join the Court.

“This is a fundamental break with history. The old era of impunity is over,” he emphasized, noting that a new “age of accountability” was slowly coming into being, with the ICC as the keystone of a growing system of global justice that includes international tribunals, mixed international-national courts and domestic prosecutions.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General visited Mwandama, a so-called Millennium Village, where UN agencies work with governments, aid organizations and civil society groups to try to lift residents out of extreme poverty and attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight targets with a 2015 deadline.

“Five years ago, one of every three people in this village was not getting enough to eat. Most children did not go to school. Exposure to HIV/AIDS was dangerously high,” he said after meeting with people who live in the village.

“The good news is that people's lives are far better,” with most families now having enough food, Mr. Ban added.

He pointed to strong leadership and good policies – well-integrated investments in education, health, agriculture and technology – as being the key to this success.

“These programmes are all pragmatic, results-oriented and scaled to the real needs of real people. And this is only the beginning,” the Secretary-General said, calling Mwandama a “case study in what is possible, even in the poorest places in the world.”

Mr. Ban arrived in Uganda from Malawi, where yesterday he addressed the country's Parliament and welcomed President Bingu wa Mutharika's “courageous” decision to pardon a gay couple recently sentenced to 14 years in prison.

We cannot "stay quiet when people are denied fundament rights -- whatever their race or faith or age or gender or sexual orientation," he said in his address to Parliament.

"It is unfortunate that laws that criminalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation exist in some countries. They should be reformed," he underlined.