Hope and Emotion High in Northern Uganda as ICC starts the trial of LRA Commander
A victim narrates her story to The ICC Chief Prosecutor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda, during her visit to Northern Uganda in early March 2015.
With nearly all the radios across northern Uganda and NGOs all talking about the Ongwen’s trial, victims’ hope for justice get stronger, and at the same time terrible memories of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Dominic Ongwen and his fellow commanders outweighs the feeling that he is going through formal court, the opportunity that he never gave to his captives.
Best known for his gruesome atrocities, the captured LRA commander Dominic Ongwen will be facing several charges before the International Criminal Court. Before the ICC, Ongwen’s crimes may be seems hard to see in the eyes of the law, but to his victims, Ongwen’s crimes are unforgettable, and any slight argument by anybody that seeks for his innocence is perceived by his victims as another torture.
“I saw Ongwen passed on the judgment on some school children we tried to escape, sentenced them to have their hands tied-down to their bodies and be buried half-way in a circle looking at each other. A week after, we came back to the same place, you wouldn’t look twice”. Ayela D (Lukodi village)
Infamous for his methods of torture, the charges against Ongwen include; attacks against the civilian population; murder and attempted murder; torture; cruel treatment and other inhumane acts; enslavement; outrages upon personal dignity; pillaging and destruction of property in addition to persecution, forced marriage, rape, sexual slavery, and conscription and use of children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities.
There are evident mixed feelings of hope for justice at last, and emotion of his barbaric act clouds the entire northern Uganda, Congo and Central African Republic.
“In Abok village, Ogwen killed people and some of the people he killed their relatives are looking for the opportunity to revenge. If we had power, we would have judged him and passed the sentence already. Why are we wasting a lot of time and money that could have been given to support the victims of Ogwen and his fellow LRA commanders?”W. Sam Abok village)
“Ongwen Dominic, Joseph Kony and his fellow commanders brought shames unto Acholi people. We are now the first tribe in Uganda to be taken to ICC. He could have just accepted the killing he commanded in Odek and other places and that could have saved some of our anger, and our tribal names shouldn’t be spreading around the world for negative reasons And the only way to forgive him to give him life imprisonment” Toolit (Local clan leader, in Odek village)
Challenges regarding the Ongwen’s trial
Following consultations with the victims' communities where the grave atrocities were committed, civil society organisations from across Lango, Acholi, Teso and West Nile regions, there are widespread consensus on victims' expectations from the ICC trials of LRA commander. People have expressed so much hope for justice, and at the same time bitterness and frustration over the court’s limited scope for Ongwen’s trial, courts lack of meaningful support to victims, and victims wondered if the verdict is worth the time and funds spent on the case.
Victims Representation:The victims chose their lawyer to represent them during the trial processes, and the right of victims to choose their lawyer has been recognized by the court and the victims’ legal representatives have been appointed. But, the challenge now is the decision by the single Judge to deny the victims’ lawyers access to legal aid, yet defence lawyer have full access, is a serious obstruction of victims’ representations. The victims’ representatives lack resources to consult with the victims, to travel to attend the proceedings. Now, it is only with insufficient support by the local NGO (African Youth Initiative Network) that the victims’ legal representative has been able to travel and consult with clients in northern Uganda.
“For long, and despite the anti-ICC campaigns we have heard before, we still believed the ICC would be able to deliver justice. But, hearing now that our very lawyer has been denied facilitation, yet Ongwen’s lawyer is getting everything is another attack this time not by the LRA, but the ICC”…lamented Scovia Arac (Pajule)
“Thanks to AYINET for struggling with us since the beginning, and if necessary, we will sell all our chickens, and if needed we will sell our land to support our representatives. This is just because if we do not ensure justice is done, our children will become another Ongwen in the future..” Peter Okot, Lukodi village.
“The bureaucracy by the ICC is as bad as LRA attack, because they both seems to work against the powerless and vulnerable people. For the judge to deny our representative legal aid, then how sure we that she is on our side are?”lamented the intermediary NGO member in Uganda
“The judges must know that as the court has rcognized the victims’ right to choose their lawyer and appointed the victims’ legal representatives, it’s not a favour that this rights are respected. So, creating an atmosphere that denies victims the opportunity now, would create the worst environment for the court, especially at this time when there is a huge anti-ICC crusade in Africa.” Christ Ongom, Coordinator of Uganda Victims Foundation
“It’s with disbelief that over 20 years of victims’ suffering, and 10 years of victims waiting with hope for justice to be delivered by ICC can be met with unfortunate decisions like that. Whose justice is the ICC working for? This decision risk ICC being perceived by the victims as biased. Something must be urgently done, otherwise denying victims the opportunity for representation will be regarded as the court is raising the highest wall of injustice. Victims have waited for too long, with so much expectations and we cannot lose the opportunity for victims to get the justice which is within sight” Victor Ochen, Director of AYINET and United Nations Global Goals Ambassador for Peace and Justice
AYINET, with support from Trust Africa has been comprehensively supporting victims for years. In the interest of advocating for justice that is meaningful to the victims as opposed to giving prominence to perpetrators, we responded to the arrest of Dominic Ongwen by launching the platform Victims’ Voices for Justice.
It aims to ensure that years of victims’ tormenting struggle for justice are not minimised to ensuring a fair criminal procedure, justice for the perpetrator; it wants to use the opportunity of the trial by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to transform victims’ and survivors’ agony, despair and hopelessness into their strength that will endeavour to bring about justice as they understand and need it.
Victims’ Voices for Justicebuilds upon our recent actions and events, carried out in the framework of engaging victims and communities with the ICC. We have, among others, organised and continue to coordinate meetings of victim-centred organisations, victim-communities and local leadership from across the Greater North. Notable and recent examples of our engagement include the participation of AYINET’s Director at the initial appearance of Ongwen in The Hague, the continuous organisation of community-level events and radio talk shows informing victims about latest developments, the gathering of intermediary and partner organisations of the ICC, as well as the visit of the ICC Chief Prosecutor to the affected community in Northern Uganda in early March 2015.
With the support form Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), AYINET is currently providing medical and psychosocial rehabilitation of LRA victims from Greater North. This is part of our on-going programs of healing as a form of justice, which to date we have provided surgical repairs to close to 6,000 victims who are still living with untreated war wounds. AYINET conducts surgeries for mutilations, gun shots, beatings, fistula and other injuries resulting from sexual abuse, among others. So far, we have been able to provide surgical rehabilitation to over 5,000 victims, however, too many victims remain in pain, even though the conflict has ended. Catering for victims’ health needs remains an absolute priority
Looking beyond the ICC - the use of the Victims’ Voices for Justice platform as a tool that allows victims to invigorate and shape domestic Transitional Justice processes, such as a dialogue on accountability, a regional, truth telling and national peace as well as reconciliation process and a timely reparations programme.
Trial Monitoring of LRA commander by the victims and affected communities
There will be live screening of the proceedings of the confirmation of charges hearing at AYINET offices at Junior Quarters, Police Road. Several screenings will be done in the communities across the region, plus ongoing dialogues. The other venue for the live screening of the hearing will be at Barlonyo in Lira.