By Samuel Okiror
The Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court has confirmed all 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Dominic Ongwen, the former leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The decision sends the case to a trial. A date for the trial has not yet been announced. Justice Hub’s correspondent in Uganda gathered reactions to the ICC’s decision.
“The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmation of charges against Ongwen is another giant leap for accountability of atrocious crimes committed against thousands of people in Northern Uganda.
“I am more than confident that the ICC will deliver justice in Ongwen’s case. On the issue of government troops/soldiers, the Rome Statute is very clear: anyone, and I mean anyone, accused of perpetrating war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide must account for their actions and if found guilty faces a punishment as prescribed by the Court. Government troops/soldiers are not exceptional to this rule. They must face trial, and the state must cooperate with the ICC, like it has done in Ongwen’s case. Shielding soldiers from accountability perpetuates immunity by the state.
“With the ICC moving to the full trial of Ongwen’s case, I urge the ICC to consider in situ hearing in northern Uganda, now that elections are over. This would bring justice closer to the people, against whom the prosecuted crimes were committed.”
”I am not surprised by the confirmation of charges against Ongwen. The charges were expected to be confirmed. What I was not sure of is the number of charges that would be confirmed.
‘‘The confirmation of charges is a move in the right direction for justice for victims in northern Uganda. But it’s only a part of it; some suspects accused of serious crimes in northern Uganda are still at large, and some people who victims suspect committed crimes during the conflict in the region have not even been indicted.
‘‘There is a widely held perception in northern Uganda that government troops, like the LRA, committed serious crimes. This perception has refused to go away and remains strong and unaddressed. And it will continue to be so unless the basis for this perceptions is independently investigated. But in the present circumstances in Uganda, I do not believe an independent investigation can be carried out into the role of government troops.’’
“The Court’s confirmation of charges hearing takes us one step closer to justice for victims of LRA violence. It is still early days in Ongwen’s trial, but his case has already raised critical issues: How should the Court maintain the rights of a defendant who was once a victim of grave crimes? What are the limits and possibilities of holding ICC hearings locally, where crimes took place? This case is historic on several accounts. It’s also timely, since the LRA is still active – abducting civilians and trafficking ivory with impunity.”
“The decision is really significant. This will be the first time we will be seeing a trial for crimes that were committed during the war. I think it will result in renewed discussion about the very real issues that its victims continue to face, such as land conflicts and poverty which are rooted in the conflict.
“People are still missing, and their family members are still dealing with the trauma of not knowing where their loved ones are. There is re-victimisation of survivors of conflict and sexual violence within their communities. Victims live with injuries from rape, bullet wounds and other forms of violence. Children born of war search for their identities. Healing and reconciliation on a wide scale are still an ongoing process.
“What constitutes ‘justice’ is really complicated for northern Uganda. It is so much bigger than what one trial can provide for. A big part of it relates to reparations, which the ICC has the potential to provide for but which will only happen if he is convicted and will only be provided to a select group of people. There are also victims whose interests are not represented in this particular case and for whom the outcome will mean very little.
“It is very important that perpetrators of the crimes that were committed during the war, including those that were state-led, be held to account. The findings and decisions of any such process should be made available to victims and the public at large.”
“I think this is a good step in the right direction for the ICC and victims of the LRA. There are still many years to go before a conviction, but at least there is a good representation of charges for the crimes the LRA and Ongwen alleged committed. It is good to see that the Prosecutor’s expanded charges, including sexual and gender-based violence, have been confirmed by the judges, reflecting that these crimes need to be held to account wherever they occur.
“I don’t believe the Ongwen trial will bring justice to thousands of victims, it will only provide some form of justice – if Ongwen is convicted – to the victims affected by the charges.
“Reparations are likely to be very limited and many years away. After the 2012 conviction of Thomas Lubanga, reparations still haven’t been delivered to the victims.
“The Ugandan Supreme Court has limited the amnesty to exclude international crimes, but trials alone will not bring everyone to account or justice to the victims. Really, the Ugandan government should implement its transitional justice policy that includes domestic trials, a truth process, traditional justice and reparations that can deliver a more comprehensive justice to a greater number of victims than the ICC.”