Uganda: LRA victims react to the first hearings in the Case against D. Ongwen

UgandaInternational justiceTransitional justice

25 March 2016 – While the International Criminal Court (ICC) just confirmed the charges against Dominic Ongwen, ASF shares views from the victims on the prosecution of the alleged Commander of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA). During a two-day live screening held in January 2016 by ASF and the Justice and Reconciliation Project in Gulu, Northern Uganda, victims and affected local communities had the opportunity to follow the pre-trial hearings taking place in The Hague, where the ICC is based. During the event, participants and victims were able to react to the hearings and expressed their views and feelings concerning the role of justice and the fight against impunity more generally.

Alleged commander of the Sinia Brigade of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group in Northern Uganda, Dominic Ongwen is charged before the ICC with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity which he allegedly committed between 2002 and 2005 in northern Uganda.

Originally, the confirmation of charges hearing was supposed to take place in Uganda but due to various reasons, including the safety of victims, it was decided that it would be held in The Hague”, explains Dorah Caroline Mafabi, head of the ASF mission in Uganda. “Nonetheless, we felt that it was important for the victims to be able to follow the trial live and witness the charges brought against Ongwen at the ICC”.

Simon (alias) is a resident of Lukodi, one of the many villages in Northern Uganda that suffered from LRA attacks. He was grateful to ASF for having organised this screening: “I feel a sense of relief because somehow, we can see and hear what is going on in Court. We are able to monitor for ourselves that what is being discussed is the truth”.

While other victims were also satisfied with the truthfulness of the charges and of seeing D. Ongwen in front of the judges, others felt distressed by the images. For Mary (alias), another victim from Lukodi village, “it was painful seeing him because it reminded me of abducted relatives who were or are still missing”.

Most participants were also shocked and displeased to see Dominic Ongwen dressed up in a suit in Court and not in his military uniform, “the way he was when he committed atrocities”.

The role of the ICC and international justice was also discussed after the screening. While some community leaders voiced the wish to see D. Ongwen forgiven, other participants did not share this view. Some of them expressed the fact that they viewed the ICC as a source of justice and relief. Victims were further overall satisfied that the Prosecution’s presentation in court reflected what happened to them or their people. Some victims, however, queried the government’s failure to protect them during the LRA’s attack, while according to evidence presented in the courtroom (including radio communications intercepted), the government seemed aware of these attacks. They claimed the truth to be uncovered about this failure. The importance of reparations was also discussed by victims.

The confirmation of charges hearing took place at The Hague from the 21st to 27th of January 2016. On 23 March 2016, Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmed the charges against D. Ongwen and committed him to trial.

For more information on the Ongwen case, click here.

Click here to watch the full testimonies of Simon and Mary.

In order to protect the identity of the victims, their faces are blurred and their names changed.

Cover photo © ASF