On Sunday, May 19, over 1,000 community members in Lukodi village converged at Lukodi Primary School to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the Lukodi Massacre that occurred in 2004. The massacre resulted in the death of several civilians and the displacement of thousands more into Coorom internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. In this article, community members offer insights on the significance of the memorial prayers as they relate to Dominic Ongwen’s trial, which is currently ongoing at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Ongwen is a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) whom prosecutors charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the former 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 has been ongoing since December 2016.
Lukodi, like other case locations, conducts annual memorial prayers in commemoration of the victims who lost their lives during the massacre. Present at this year’s memorial prayers were community members, representatives of civil society organizations, and local leaders.
When asked to state if the prayers were beneficial to them in the context of Ongwen’s ongoing trial at the ICC, many community members noted that it was an opportunity for reflection.
“Survivors and the community use this time to meditate and compare the past and relate it to the present. The general interest overall is to find justice in the end. That is why they come here every year. The prayer is supplementing Ongwen’s trial,” said Lalobo, a community member.
“For me it is a time to pray for the departed souls, but we also use this time to petition God to help us get Ongwen convicted and imprisoned for the suffering he laid upon us,” said Ojok.
For another community member called Florence, the prayers were also an opportunity for victims to consider forgiving Ongwen.
“The coming together of several people for the annual prayers brings us some form of consolation and a sense of relief. It makes us think of forgiving Ongwen,” she said.
Another community member called Ochora reiterated the need for forgiveness.
“The prayer gives me the strength to stand firm. I think we should just forgive Ongwen on our side but also leave the court to do its work,” said Ochora.
“The prayers remind me a lot about what Ongwen did to us in the past. The image of what took place is brought too close to me. I hope we get justice,” said Rubangakene.
“I think we should utilize the annual prayers to pray for the souls of our children to have eternal rest. The issues of the trial will not help us soon,” said Ayaa.
“I find the prayers heart quenching. It helps me to be strong as I wait for the court verdict,” said Opiro.
For other community members, like Margaret quoted below, the prayers were a reminder of how long Ongwen’s trial is taking to conclude.
“I have to admit that my heart breaks during the prayer. The trial is taking too long, yet our people are growing older each day, and it is possible that by the time a verdict is reached, they will be dead,” she said.
The community members also underscored the importance of the memorial prayers in keeping their hopes alive for a positive outcome in Ongwen’s trial.
“The prayers give us hope because the preaching of religious and others leaders during the commemoration act as a constant reminder that the massacre which took place should never repeat itself. We hope to attain justice from Ongwen’s trial,” said Lalobo.
“The prayer brings us hope for reparations if Ongwen is convicted. The day also brings together our leaders to whom we send our petitions after the mass,” said Ojok.
“The prayers give us hope for reparations because the message is often repeated during the commemoration,” said Florence. “Who knows? Maybe one day we shall get reparations.”
“The prayers keep our hopes for justice alive,” said Rubangakene. “It reminds people that the massacre did indeed happen. Even those who were not present at the time get to know. In that way the government will always be reminded that they owe us for not protecting us from the LRA and the whole world will know what took place in 2004.”
“The annual commemoration is evidence for the ICC that truly there was a massacre in Lukodi,” said Ochora. “Hence the court needs to ensure that there is justice for the victims.”
“The prayers help to erode the negative feelings in us, and in a few years we shall be coming here to pray only, and not to mourn and be sad,” said Ayaa. The prayers are evidence that there was a massacre here and the victims need justice.”
“The hope I get is that our departed friends and relatives are at rest. In addition, it strengthens me in light of the orphans I am looking after that at least their parents are being remembered and prayed for annually as we wait for the court verdict,” said Opiro.
“The prayer gives us hope of a better life someday. We pray that Ongwen is convicted so that we get reparations for the losses we encountered,” said Margaret.
As Ongwen’s trial progresses at the ICC, the above comments reiterate the high expectations that community members have for justice. It remains to be seen whether those expectations will be met.
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