What really happened: How justice is integral to past, present and future
With Jimmy Otim
After more than a decade of waiting for justice in northern Uganda, community members turned up in droves, braving the heat of the day to watch pre-trial proceedings in the ICC’s case against Dominic Ongwen, alleged brigade commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Throughout the late-January proceedings, elders, youth, children, women and men flocked to the viewing centres in eight locations affected by crimes related to this case: Lukodi, Pajule, Odek, Abok, Barlonyo, Gulu Town, Lira Town and Soroti town in north and north-eastern Uganda. Wanting to witness the Court proceedings in real time, as they unfolded in The Hague, they followed the five days of proceeding eagerly, whispering to each other especially when the evidence presented gave specific accounts of what happened in their communities.
“The presentation is a chronological account of what really happened here. I think much more will come out of the case if it goes to trial”, said a man from Odek, capturing the communities’ satisfaction with the facts presented.
For many, the pre-trial hearings were important for the past, present and future. A man from Lukodi expressed this well, saying: “Watching the confirmation of charges hearing of Dominic Ongwen has restored our trust in the international community because it means that someone was watching, and that our suffering did not go unnoticed. I however urge the ICC to improve the lives of people who testify as witnesses. The ICC should assist them in any way possible so that their lives improve. I also request that the proceedings and evidence presented are compiled into a book for our children to read”.
In these communities, opinion is divided over whether or not Dominic Ongwen should be prosecuted, and many ask about investigations beyond LRA members, as commanders of other groups allegedly also committed crimes. But the screenings of the pre-trial hearings, for many community members, was "historic”. Many shared the sentiment expressed by one woman from Odek: “This court is real. I never imagined we would be watching Dominic Ongwen going through the [ICC] process live in our home here”.
As the pre-trial hearings came to a close, we explained that the judges would now deliberate and decide whether or not to commit the case to trial. A woman from Odek had this request: “Please don’t forget us and always endeavour to come back and keep us in the loop on all the ICC proceedings".
I will endeavour to do just that.
Over all, the community live screening project was a success. Whatever the outcome of the hearing will be, these communities know the Court is real and has heard what really happened. Justice is an integral part of northern Uganda’s past, present and future. I am honoured to help bring the Court closer to communities, and hope they feel empowered to be part of the justice process.