The lawyers, who on Wednesday were presenting the victims closing statement, said the victims viewed the trial as a start of a healing process for them
Lawyers representing victims of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) insurgence in Northern Uganda have told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the victims see the trial as a restoration of hope that they had lost in getting justice.
The lawyers, who on Wednesday were presenting the victims closing statement, said the victims viewed the trial as a start of a healing process for them, from the sufferings they endured during the northern Uganda conflict.
The lawyers also told the court that it was disrespectful for Dominic Ongwen's defense lawyers to argue in their closing brief that Ongwen was also a victim of the atrocities the LRA committed, so he, therefore, should not be held responsible for the crimes he has been charged with.
"The fact that Mr Ongwen was abducted at a young age does not absolve him for acts committed as an adult. Not all victims become perpetrators and criminals," said Paolina Massidda, the Common Legal Representative for Victims.
Massidda represents a group of 1,502 victims registered to participate in the trial of Ongwen. Most of the victims Massidda represents were residents in the former Pajule camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in northern Uganda.
"What this trial is about is the conduct of Mr Ongwen as an adult and the actions he chose to take or not take," Massidda said.
According to Ongwen and his lawyers, the LRA abducted him in 1988, when he was 18 years old, though other witnesses say he was between nine years old and 11 years old when the LRA abducted him.
Ongwen, a former LRA commander is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is alleged to have committed these crimes between July 2002 and December 2005 in northern Uganda.
He is also been charged with eight modes of liability. These are provisions in the Rome Statute; the ICC's founding treaty, that specifies how an individual is criminally liable for the crimes he or she has been charged with. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts and modes of liability.
Joseph Akwenyu Manoba and Francisco Cox, who represent 2,601 victims, said the trial of Ongwen marks the beginning of a significant phase of recovery from the past for the victims.
The 2,601 victims were residents of the Odek, Lukodi, and Abok IDP camps, which Ongwen is accused to have commanded attacks on.
"Your Honors, before the commencement of the trial most victims had resigned themselves to the outlook that there would be no justice in their lifetime for the grave violations they had endured during the conflict between the government of Uganda and the LRA," Manoba said.
Manoba said the victims had thought none of the top LRA commanders would ever be tried following the different developments in the ICC case.
However, he said that changed when Ongwen appeared before the ICC and for the first time in Uganda's history, a court process against an LRA commander began.
"They have never been interested in finding a scapegoat. The victims have been interested in a process that seeks to establish the truth. For the victims the process of truth-telling was and remains essential to their understanding of what it means to get justice," he explained.
Cox, in his statement, spoke about the consequences of the conflict on the lives of victims.
He quoted the May 2018 testimony of Witness V-2 to show how victims were stigmatized and to show how families were affected by the separation caused when their children were abducted.
He also quoted the May 2, 2018 testimony of Vincent Oyet, a long-serving teacher at Lukodi Primary School, to show that education remained disrupted long after the LRA attacks ceased in northern Uganda.
"Victims have followed closely the proceedings … they travel huge distances to meet with our team. They are grateful that this is the only justice they will get for the crimes they have suffered. They see the act of giving statements to this court as the beginning of the healing process," he said.
He said some of the victims he and Manoba represent told them that during LRA attacks, men were raped as well as women.
"The victims have put faith in these proceedings and in this court. They have seen the evidence presented to Your Honors and believe it's compelling. And that should result in a conviction on all charges. That conviction, Your Honors, will be the first step towards reconciliation amongst the community, the reparation of the harm they suffered as individuals but also as a community," he said