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Victims trust wanes as Ongwen’s case resumes at the ICC

6 March 2017 - 19:03

The trial of Dominic Ongwen at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Netherlands resumed on 27 February amidst numerous challenges that have left victims with insufficient information about court proceedings.

In 2016, the ICC announced that seven viewing sites would be set up to provide access to the proceedings to victims, affected communities and the general Uganda population in English and Luo. This followed an earlier decision by the court to hold Ongwen’s trial at the its headquarters in The Hague rather than Uganda due to infrastructural challenges and the fact that the country was then heading towards the 2016 general elections.

The viewing sites in Uganda were identified with the aim of reaching victims and their proximity to the areas were Ongwen’s crimes are alleged to have been committed with the exception of Gulu Senior Secondary School Hall in Gulu and Coorom Primary School in Amuru, close to Ongwen’s ancestral home.

The other viewing centres are Lukodi Primary School in Lukodi, Gulu district, Abok Sub-County Hall in Abok, Oyam district, Bamboo Hall in Pajule, Pader district, and Odek Cooperative Hall in Odek, Omoro district.

Disappointed

When the trial commenced in December 2016, these centres were set to relay live broadcasts of the court’s proceedings to a hall full of victims and curious community members who wanted to see for themselves what was taking place in the court. However, what happened was that people were left disappointed when the broadcasts failed due to technical issues that would allow for broadcast.

Komakech Robert, a victim who was following the proceedings from Gulu Senior Secondary School main hall said he was disappointed with the live screening, saying that the signals were “on and off” especially at the time when Ongwen began giving his statements.

Komakech also raised concerns about the translation of the proceedings. “I was also concerned about the translation from English to Luo which was not articulate,” he said, “It also leaves out other people in northern Uganda who also faced the same terror by the LRA.”

According to Komakech, the ICC to not to have anticipated these challenges demonstrates a clear lack of foresightedness which leaves a bad image in the eyes of the victims.

“The ICC was not prepared for the live screenings, there was no value for money,” he says, “In Uganda people do things haphazardly without considering the repercussions, most especially on the victims.”

Lost interest

He says the public seems to have lost interest in the court proceedings and are only waiting for the final court ruling. He however advises that for the court to win back the trust of the public, especially the victims in the proceedings, it should use platforms like radio in order to relay the proceedings instead of the live screenings.

“The locals have not been given enough knowledge to bring reconciliation if continuous engagements and community dialogue reflecting on the court proceeding is not strengthened,” Komakech says.

Livingstone Okumu, a viewer and survivor at Abok also felt that the live screenings were poorly managed. He says that the viewing space was also small and not able to accommodate the numbers that turned up which hindered victims from understanding the proceedings.

Local translators

Okumu further notes that the screening did very little in helping the communities understand the proceedings as the sound was poor. He also shares Komakech’s concern about translations which he advises the ICC can overcome by utilising local translators.

The ICC outreach coordinator for Kenya and Uganda Maria Kamara states that lack of internet connectivity in rural communities failed the live screenings, adding that the court has improvised weekly court sessions in selected viewing places.

“We couldn’t manage the problem of internet,” she says, adding: “The whole process isn’t sustainable. Television and radio stations couldn’t go on with the court proceeding up to the date it adjourned.”

She says the outreach team will continue to use different media platforms to pass messages as well as providing court documentation and procedures online and on the ICC website.

These solutions are not enough, however say experts.

''It’s very hard for victims and survivors who have both physical injuries and financial challenges to travel to Kampala to meet officials from the ICC outreach team,” says legal expert Christine Adokorach, of Rural Women Action to Participate and Decide (RAWPAD) based in West Nile.

This challenge, she says, can be overcome by opening up another office in Gulu or shifting the Kampala office to a location closer to the victims. Another recommendation has been for a documentation centre be opened up for the public can access information about what is happening at the court.

Photo: People watch proceedings in Dominic Ongwen's trial at the ICC in Gulu on 16 January 2017. Oryem Nyeko/Justice and Reconciliation Project.

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