By Dominic Ochola
LIRA - Former ICC prosecutor Louis Moreno Ocampo has offered to renew investigations into the February 2004 Barlonyo massacre and also represent the survivors in seeking justice at the world's first permanent war crimes court in The Hague.
Ocampo made the revelation on Friday while meeting hundreds of survivors of the atrocity at Barlonyo Memorial Ground in Orit parish, Agweng sub-county in Lira district.
“I was working for you for the last ten years as a prosecutor, that’s why I am here to learn what’s happening with you now and I know you are much better than [you were] ten years ago,” he told the crowd.
“I have got something to offer you. I would like to be your lawyer. You can formerly appoint me as your lawyer and I would organize a team of people who will come here to document well what happened,” said the former ICC prosecutor.
From the events that took place at Barlonyo a decade ago, Ocampo trusts the findings will be presented to ICC judges to expand Joseph Kony’s arrest warrant and push for more concerted global efforts to arrest the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) warlord.
Over 300 displaced people were killed on February 21, 2004 by alleged mystic LRA rebels after they attacked Barlonyo camp which harbored at least 500 people.
Ocampo stated that initially, people thought 200 people were killed in Barlonyo but that the number is definitely higher than that.
In a memorandum presented to Ocampo, the survivors under their umbrella body – Barlonyo Development Association (BACODA) – want a truth-telling commission established.
“The number of souls lost due to the attack surpasses 200 as claimed by government. We want this number corrected since it’s not matching with our local report,” said Charles Okello, the BACODA program coordinator.
One child mother of two lost her eyesight after she was battered by the rebels and left for dead.
“I will never forgive Joseph Kony for his heinous attacks on innocent civilians but also government owes us explanations why the rebels attacked and killed people in a protected camp. Where were our protectors?” she asked.
A retired UPDF officer who lost a wife during the attack but preferred anonymity revealed witnessing “dead bodies that were buried secretly by his comrades”.
Moses Ogwang, chairman of the Barlonyo survivors, revealed the attack has left a record 470 fully-assessed orphans in the area who need urgent support.
“I lost my wife and two sons in the attack. My life as a widower has never been easy and for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation to be fostered, we need truth-telling” he said.
Ocampo, who also conveyed his desire to help towards the development of the war-scarred community, urged the residents to take lead in rebuilding their destiny.
The ghosts of Barlonyo
Several accounts from elders in Barlonyo and neighboring villages attest to encountering solitary spirits that have been haunting the community whenever a memorial service is not conducted.
Richard Otim, the LC1 chairman of Awiyalem village, said residents are living in fear as images of their loved ones who were cruelly killed during the attack keep manifesting to the living.
The LC3 chairman of Ogur sub-county Richard Okello confirmed receiving reports from elders about alleged ghost attacks in the area.
“We need the intervention of government, churches and the cultural institution to help in the psychosocial and rehabilitation of the whole Barlonyo community,” appealed Okello.
Andrew Ogwang Oyang, the vice chairman LC5 Lira District Local, expressed fear that unless the government steps forward to rehabilitate victims of the war, they may be a potential security threat to peace and stability of the post-war north.
The Barlonyo massacre and the crisis in Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo were the first two cases chosen to be tackled by the then newly created war crimes tribunal under Ocampo’s tenure of office as ICC prosecutor.
While speaking on NRM 28th Liberation Day anniversary celebrations in Mayuge district January 26, President Yoweri Museveni acknowledged atrocities committed against civilians in northern Uganda.
In response to Museveni’s statement, UPC president Olara Otunnu Otunnu challenged Museveni to agree to an independent Truth-Commission to look into all past atrocities in Uganda and allow the International Criminal Court to investigate what he termed as genocide in the north.