There are only two months to go before Dominic Ongwen, the former Lord’s Resistance Army commander in Uganda starts his pre-trial process at the ICC. He’s charged with more counts than any other person so far at the ICC. The events – the massacres, rapes and attacks that he is linked to – are appalling. His case has been on the ICC’s books for many years.
If you take Christmas out of the equation, it’s really only a couple of weeks until the ICC judges start hearing what the prosecutor is alleging against Ongwen. But is Uganda buzzing with expectation? Are the newspapers full of questions about what will happen, how many witnesses, what the evidence will be? Well, no…
Upcoming elections more important
The fact of the process against Dominic Ongwen happening in The Hague seems as remote as snowfall for Kampalans. The Ugandan political and media agenda is dominated by the elections. Last week, the campaign kicked off. There are several candidates for president.
The ruling party now faces some real opposition. There’s been violence in some of the primaries. Everyone is looking forward to February and the chance to vote. That’s the buzz. That’s the focus of the moment.
If you travel north to Gulu, one of the epicentres of the LRA’s campaign of violence, there’s also minimal interest in Ongwen and his upcoming trial. In Ongwen’s home area, also in northern Uganda, his close relatives are concerned.
But in Gulu, the crisis is over. There’s no sign nowadays of the thousands of children who once commuted into town and slept on the steps of buildings every night to keep safe from the rebels. Even the local courthouse, which could potentially have been the site for Ongwen’s appearance is its usual sleepy self.
Getting wounds treated a bigger priority
In fact, the lack of interest is not surprising. If you’d faced years of attacks and uncertainty, been herded into camps, were now back home in your village, still suffering from the trauma of war and struggling to keep yourself and your family fed and educated, would you care about what’s happening in The Hague?
Like the people I heard about from NGOs which work on the ground, I think I would be focused on getting my wounds treated or getting some support for my family. Justice isn’t only what happens in courtrooms, especially when they’re so far away. Justice is also an acknowledgement of harm done and reparations to help people get on with their lives again. Let’s hope that justice is not as remote as snowfall.
Lead image: High Court in Gulu, Uganda (Photo: Janet Anderson/Justice Hub)