Holding Dominic Ongwen’s confirmation of charges hearing in The Hague is a missed opportunity

Community members participate in a memorial for the Lukodi massacre of 2004, Lukodi 19 May 2015.

Community members participate in a memorial for the Lukodi massacre of 2004, Lukodi 19 May 2015.

For many years the issue of justice related to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-Government of Uganda war has been a farfetched dream for communities affected by it until the recent arrest and transfer of alleged LRA commander Dominic Ongwen to the International Criminal Court (ICC). On the 28th of October 2015, however, the Presidency of the International Criminal Court (ICC) made a decision that a confirmation of charges hearing for Dominic Ongwen’s case scheduled for 21 January 2016 will be held at the seat of the court in The Hague and not in Gulu town as had been recommended by the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber II. This is disappointing because holding the hearing in the community affected by the atrocities for which Ongwen is alleged to have been responsible for was a huge opportunity to provide closure for victims.

In northern Uganda, there is a disconnect between the ICC and the communities to which it aims to serve. Despite outreach programs on the ICC, many people here do not understand the work of the court and the justice remedies it can deliver to them. This gap between the affected community and the court could have been filled by holding this hearing in Gulu since it would have brought the justice process closer to them while allowing the work of the court to be experienced by people who have been affected by the conflict. It would have gone a long way to address negative perceptions about the court which are held by many people in the communities in northern Uganda and in Africa in general. Also, it would have been an opportunity to stir up action on justice processes in Uganda such as stalled proceedings at the International Crimes Division of the Ugandan High Court.

That said, the ICC Presidency’s decision not to hold the confirmation of the charges hearings in Uganda during the peak of the political season is a good one given the brutality, chaos and violence that is usually associated with Uganda’s election period. In the past, Uganda’s political campaigns and elections have been marred with violence which could possibly interfere with the court processes.

Nevertheless, it is important that the court continues to work to find ways to bring its work closer home in the future.

Nancy Apiyo is a project officer with JRP’s Gender Justice department.