Reparations for victims and survivors of conflict is an important aspect of trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The type and form that reparations should take is a contentious issue of debate. In northern Uganda the topic keeps coming up during community outreach events, underscoring the central role that reparations will play in the aftermath of the ICC trial of Dominic Ongwen for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This article presents opinions collected from interviews with community members in Lukodi village, many of whom openly expressed their opinions on the subject even though the trial of Dominic Ongwen is still far from conclusion.
Ongwen, a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the former internally displaced persons (IDP) camps of Lukodi, Pajule, Odek, and Abok in northern Uganda. Among the 70 counts are charges of sexual and gender-based violence and the use of child soldiers. His trial, which is currently on recess until September 18, started in December 2016.
Asked which they would prefer between individual and community reparations, many community members did not hesitate to express preference for individual reparations.
Wilfred, one of the community members said, “In my view everything should be compensated individually because collective schemes are complicated and difficult to manage.”
“As you can see we are poverty stricken and cannot afford to pay school fees for our children,” said Charles, another community member. “However small it might be, I prefer that we be compensated individually so that every household gets at least a shilling. This will help those who lost relatives, especially widows and orphans to access services they cannot afford.”
Beatrice, another community member, pointed out the significance of individual reparations in line with Acholi cultural practices. “Considering Acholi culture, communal compensation is impossible. In Acholi culture when someone dies as a result of malicious and intentional acts, there should be culu kwor (compensation) to the family members,” she said.
Lucy, another community member said, “I think we should be paid individually because everything that has been done for us as a community in the past is not working. If you go to a government hospital which is supposed to be free you are still asked to pay in order to access services. That is why I say we should be compensated individually.”
Asked for their opinion regarding the types of individual reparations they would prefer to receive, the community members provided various options, ranging from cash payouts to items for livelihood support.
According to Wilfred, “The best individual compensation would be money because things like animals often come with issues like corruption by the people purchasing those animals because they inflate the prices so that they can keep most of the money for themselves.”
Other community members such as Charles preferred to receive physical items such as animals. “We should be given animals (oxen) but if that cannot happen then iron sheets would help us because if you move around this village you will find widows sleeping in dilapidated structures, so they need some form of decent housing,” he said.
Others expressed preference for educational opportunities. “In my opinion, I suggest that at least two children from each household be given scholarships to finish school so that we uplift the literacy levels of this area,” said Margaret, another community member.
Beatrice agreed with Margaret. “It would be very important if children from each family are sponsored in school. It is through educating children that we shall develop,” said Beatrice.
While the above comments demonstrate a preference for individual reparations, there is also the option of collective reparations schemes, designed to benefit entire communities as opposed to individual victims. Asked what kind of collective schemes they would prefer in the event that individual reparations were not forthcoming, community members cited infrastructure, livelihood projects, and educational opportunities. All community members emphasized the importance of putting in place something that would create a lasting memory.
“If we are to be compensated as a community, they should construct for us a school or a health facility where we can all benefit,” said Beatrice.
“The government should think about something that lasts for a long time such as a hospital or a vocational institute because even the poor who cannot afford the secondary education system can go and obtain life skills for a year or two and be able to change their lives,” said Richard, another community member.
Julius, another community member, emphasized the significance of livelihood schemes. “If we are to be compensated as a community, we should be given oxen and ox-ploughs because it is sustainable. We can use them to cultivate crops for food and for commercial purposes,” he said.
Another community member called Lucy continued to emphasize the importance of reparations in monetary form. “I would still prefer money even if we are to be compensated collectively. We need money and this money can be channeled in the groups for the community,” she said.
“If we are to be compensated as a community, they should do for us two things; construct a hospital where there are completely no charges, and a school where our children can access free and quality education,” said Margaret.
Ongwen’s trial is still far from completion, with the defense scheduled to start presenting evidence on September 18. However, the above views underscore the significance of reparations in the communities impacted by this trial and the crimes Ongwen allegedly committed.
Lino Owor Ogora is a peace-building practitioner who has worked with victims of conflict in northern Uganda and South Sudan since 2006. He is also the Co-Founder of the Foundation for Justice and Development Initiatives (FJDI), a local Non-Government Organization based in Gulu District that works with children, youth, women, and communities to promote justice, development, and economic recovery in northern Uganda.