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Acholi local leaders at ICC for Ongwen trial

By Carol Natukunda

Added 16th October 2018 12:44 PM

Ongwen faces 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern Uganda from 2002 to 2005.

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Ongwen faces 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern Uganda from 2002 to 2005.

“I am happy to see Ongwen in the Courtroom. When they asked the defence witness some questions, I saw him laughing. Although he is a suspect in detention, he looks happy. I think they are treating him well,” says Betty Piloya.

A women’s representative from Lukodi village in Gulu district, Pilayo was one of the 20-member Acholi delegation that recently travelled to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to witness the ongoing trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former rebel commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Ongwen faces 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern Uganda from 2002 to 2005. 

The 43-year-old is linked to killings of civilian populations in the former internally displaced people’s camps of Lukodi, Pajule, Odek and Abok.

Other charges include murder, torture, abductions and mutilation of the civilian population; sexual crimes such as rape, forced marriages and enslavement. Scores of women and children are believed to have been abducted and recruited as fighters, porters and sex slaves to serve the LRA, where Ongwen was the commander.

Ongwen has been in custody in The Hague-based detention center since January 21, 2015 and is currently undergoing trial at the ICC.

“ I was amazed that witnesses of all backgrounds, can be allowed to come and testify in such a big Court, even an Ajwaka(Acholi word for witchdoctor),” Piloya discloses, with a tinge of amusement in her voice.

Access to Justice Project

Piloya and other members of the delegation comprising of the media, civil society, religious, local and cultural leaders are beneficiaries of Access to Justice, a project that is being implemented by the ICC Field Office with funding from the Danish Embassy in Uganda.

The project, launched in July 2017, between the former Registrar of the Court, Herman von Hebel, and the former Ambassador of Denmark to Uganda, Mogens Pedersen, seeks to provide victims and affected communities access to Ongwen trial.

 

This, according to officials, is in a bid to enable them   to broaden their understanding of the proceedings, which are taking place away from their local communities. 

The delegation that travelled to The Hague particularly included representatives from the four affected villages of Lukodi, Odek, Abok and Pajule, where thousands of people were killed and displaced during the LRA attacks, from 2002 to 2005.

In a telephone conversation with New Vision, Maria Mabinty Kamara, the ICC Field Outreach Officer in Uganda, who has been leading the implementation of the Access to Justice Project explains that since December 2016 when Ongwen’s pre-trial started, the desire to follow proceedings was immense.

“It had drawn immense interest from victims and communities that have been affected by the crimes Ongwen is charged with, as well as members of the public, yet the courtroom where the proceedings are taking place is located thousands of kilometers away in The Hague,” says Kamara.
“One of our fundamental roles is to bridge this gap between the Court and the affected communities through a sustainable two-way dialogue in order to manage the expectations of the victims and to make the proceedings meaningful and relevant to them.”

“Justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done especially by those on whose behalf it is done.  Taking the 20-member delegation makes this real and they will be able to directly explain the process to their constituencies, thus creating a multiplier effect,” Kamara.

Indeed, another member of the Acholi delegation, Isaac Okwir Odiya, witnessing Court sessions, says he is now aware that investigating war crimes takes a lot of time.

“I also understood that it is a court of last resort, and so other complementary mechanisms to justice should be encouraged,” says Okwir.
“Besides, I was able to put questions from the community I represent to court officials; the questions that people hold close to their hearts,” he adds.

Other components of the Access to Justice project ,as explained by Kamara, include monthly video screenings of trial summaries in 23 parishes of the affected villages; formation of radio listening clubs for victims communities to follow and discuss the trial. 
 

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