Just months after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and a team of investigators crisscrossed northern Uganda to drum up support for the proceedings against Dominic Ongwen, it has become evident that survivors of the more than two-decade LRA (1987-2008) insurgency find themselves at cross-roads in their pursuit for justice. The sad fact is, they may not even ever realise it.
In a recent meeting of victims and survivors from across Acholi and Lango sub-regions held at Olango Conference Hall in Gulu organised by the Justice and Reconciliation Project, the victims’ representatives made more demands than the ICC was ever designed to deliver on.
The meeting was convened to discuss inter alia what justice for international crimes means for northern Uganda, how the different communities in Lango and Acholi feel about the trial of Ongwen and what role they see the trial playing in fostering reconciliation and other imperatives.
Instead it vividly demonstrated a major mismatch between survivor expectations and what the ICC can actually offer, with more and more communities in the region positioning themselves as supporting the ICC and disengaging from other transitional justice processes in the hopes of benefiting from Ongwen’s trial. Not only are all the affected sub-regions Teso, Lango, Acholi and West Nile expecting direct compensation (court reparations) from the ICC if or when Dominic Ongwen gets convicted, they also have fundamentally misplaced beliefs that the ICC is best placed to facilitate processes such as reconciliation, truth-seeking and traditional justice mechanisms in the affected areas.
The risk here is that by wrongly pinning their hopes on a court established to prosecute rather than to reconcile, local communities will unintentionally further weaken an already faltering national process to develop an appropriate transitional justice policy and legislation. Communities are right to want comprehensive (transitional) justice based on accountability, truth seeking, compensation, reparations and reconciliation, but they are wrong to think that the ICC can deliver on all of these. The fact that they are even trying to do so is a damming indictment of the government’s transitional justice development process that has dragged on for eight years and, despite being now on its sixth draft, has yet to be finalised, let alone operationalised in support of the survivors of northern Uganda and other regions of the country.