Opening of Ongwen’s trial before the ICC: making justice accessible to victims in Uganda

UgandaInternational justiceTransitional justice

The Hague (Netherlands) and Kampala (Uganda), 7 December 2016 – While former LRA rebel Dominic Ongwen is now facing justice before the ICC, ASF recalls the importance of bringing justice closer to the affected communities. The NGO supports the organisation of live screenings of the opening of Ongwen’s trial and encourages national authorities to increase their support to make justice accessible for all. Yesterday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) started the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group. He is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including forced marriages and forced pregnancy. His case was referred by the Uganda authorities to the ICC in 2004. But it is only in 2015 that the Court got hold of him when he surrendered himself. More than 4,000 victims are participating to these proceedings. Through the assistance of their lawyers, they presented their views to the judges in The Hague. Remarkably, the ICC in cooperation with civil society organisations organised live screenings of the first trial hearing both in Kampala (the capital city), and in the Gulu District (one of the major areas in Northern Uganda where D. Ongwen is alleged to have committed the crimes). ASF supports and welcomes this initiative. “The affected communities in Northern Uganda have long been expecting to see former LRA leaders stand trial to reveal the truth about past atrocities”, explains Patricia Bako, Programme Officer at ASF. “Holding live screenings of ICC proceedings in Uganda will give an opportunity for victims to actually follow the trial. It will send a strong message in Uganda that impunity is certainly no longer the rule”. ASF has already had this experience of bringing closer ICC proceedings to the victims’ communities. In January 2016, ASF organised a two-day live screening in Gulu, of the confirmation of the charges against D. Ongwen followed by discussions with the victims and community leaders. This experience showed the strong wish from victims and communities to see justice delivered and truth about past events uncovered. “The ongoing proceedings of the trial offer a great inspiration to the International Crimes Division (ICD) of Uganda, such as the support to the victims’ lawyers, outreach to the affected communities and protection of witnesses”, explains further Patricia Bako. “The ICD was established to complement the efforts of the ICC and as such it is important the Court draws some lessons from the ICC, especially in terms of victims’ participations, to ensure that the government supports the national processes of ensuring that victims participate meaningfully in the Thomas Kwoyelo’s case which is expected to resume soon in Uganda”. ASF recalls the duty for both the ICD and the government to ensure that the victims are able to participate to and follow the proceedings at national level. Victims’ lawyers should be provided with adequate resources since victims cannot pay for their services. Likewise, Ugandan authorities should consider making domestic proceedings accessible through live screening on national broadcast and publication in national newspapers. Victims’ ownership of such kind of process is key for its success and in restoring the trust of the people in the State. ASF’s Ugandan office was established in December 2007. ASF has been implementing a project aimed at promoting national accountability processes for mass atrocities in Uganda.
Picture © ICC-CPI