Community Members in Northern Uganda Moved by Closing Statements of Victims’ Lawyers

The public in northern Uganda has welcomed closing statements by the legal representatives in the case of Dominic Ongwen, which is currently in its final stages at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The closing statements of the legal representatives for victims focused on highlighting crimes allegedly committed by Ongwen, including the practice of abducting girls and women, gender-based crimes, and the conscription of girls and boys under the age of 15.

Ongwen is a former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed between July 2002 and December 2005 in northern Uganda. Ongwen’s trial started on December 6, 2016. After the presentations of evidence by the prosecution, the defense, and the legal representatives for victims, Trial Chamber IX scheduled closing statements for March 10 – 12, 2020. The closing statements by the legal representatives for victims came a day after the prosecution presented their closing remarks.

In Gulu district, a public screening of the closing statements was organized by the Outreach Division of the ICC in Uganda. The ICC conducted the public screening at the Gulu District Council headquarters, and over 100 members of the public attended.

A key part of legal representatives’ statements highlighted the impact of Ongwen’s crimes upon his victims, which affected many of the participants who attended the public screening.

 “The entire process is going very well and will ensure that those who committed crimes face justice,” remarked Lanyero, a local leader. “What touched from the presentation by the legal representatives for victims was the story of a 10 year old girl whom Ongwen is alleged to have forced into sex and the kind of beatings that she received for resisting. Those who are defending Ongwen should really put themselves into the girl’s shoes. Suppose it was their daughter, what would they say or do? I know that the crimes being shared here were not only committed by Ongwen, but rather the LRA. Ongwen should face justice for all that he did.”

“The court is progressing very well. We are hoping for a fair outcome from this court. After listening to the prosecution and the legal representatives for victims, I am looking forward to listening to the defense side tomorrow, and the final ruling,” said a community member called Angom.

 “Some people were touched and emotional about some of the testimonies highlighted by the legal representatives for victims. This shows that they are relating to what the victims went through,” noted Abonga, another community member.

Many community members praised the legal representatives’ for highlighting the suffering that victims went through.

“The victims’ lawyers brought out what everyone understands clearly, which is the suffering of the victims,” said Aber. “I like the fact that the witnesses’ identities are being protected. I also heard the victims’ lawyers mentioning both the good and bad part of Ongwen, which makes it a little confusing. I also found it disturbing that the lawyers only focused on the locations where Ongwen is accused of committing the atrocities, yet there are people who suffered in other locations. If Ongwen is found guilty, I wonder whether only those in the four locations will be awarded reparation.”

“The statements made by the prosecution in their closing statements did not conflict with that of the legal representatives for victims. I am therefore hoping for a free and fair judgment,” said Ongom, a resident of Gulu Town.

“The trial is going well. I hope there will be a positive outcome from it. It is only said that Ongwen committed over 70 crimes after the age of eighteen. To me this shows that his crimes were serious, and he therefore needs to be judged,” noted another community member called Oryem.

“I am in support what the legal representatives for victims said. They mentioned exactly what the victims in northern Uganda went through: the suffering in the IDP camps; killing; raping women; looting; beating; and torture. This gave me hope that truth will prevail, and we shall receive justice.”

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