International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Can International Justice Survive in an Age of Renewed Nationalist Fervor?

In an opinion piece published on April 10, 2017, by World Politics Review, James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, argues that the international justice has become irrevocably embedded in global politics.  He writes:

“International justice has taken a reputational nosedive since the late 1990s, when the creation of the International Criminal Court signaled a new age of global accountability. Some of this has involved predictable pushback from political leaders who would rather not be called to account. But other complaints resonate more widely.

Some say that the ICC’s focus on Africa and its inability to address atrocities from North Korea to Syria reflect the double standards of global power, not the impartiality of law. The worldwide resurgence … Continue Reading

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ICC Chamber Excludes Victims from Bashir Cooperation Proceedings

On Friday, April 7, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will hold a hearing in the case against Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir, for the first time in seven years. Pre-Trial Chamber II will hear submissions on whether action should be taken against South Africa for failing to surrender President Bashir during his visit to that country in June 2015 for an African Union summit.

Notably absent from the hearing will be any representative of the victims of Bashir’s alleged crimes, although a small number of them have been granted status to participate in the case.

The role given to victims in ICC proceedings is often described as ground-breaking. Victims’ voices, so it is claimed, are what distinguish this court from previous international … Continue Reading

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To Punish or to Pardon? Perspectives on Accountability and Forgiveness in the Case of Dominic Ongwen

Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is currently on trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC). He is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the former internally displaced persons (IDP) camps of Lukodi, Odek, Abok, and Pajule. His trial, which started on December 6, 2016, is progressing steadily, with the prosecution currently making submissions.

As the trial continues, many people continue to remain divided on whether Ongwen should stand trial and be punished on the one hand, or whether he should be forgiven and acquitted on the other hand. This article presents perspectives from both sides.

To Pardon

The ICC has been involved in Uganda since 2004 when a referral was … Continue Reading

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Human Rights Groups to Inter-American Court: Impunity is Alive and Well in Guatemala

President Jimmy Morales invited the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to conduct its 57th session in Guatemala City, perhaps hoping to repair the country’s tattered relationship with the international organization. However, in extending this invitation, he may not have expected the court to be reviewing Guatemala’s own record on accountability for grave crimes.

During its visit, which took place from March 20 to 25, 2017, the court held a private, closed-door session to review the implementation of 14 sentences it handed down between 1998 and 2012 against the state of Guatemala in grave human rights cases related to the internal armed conflict. The session was a follow-up to a similar hearing held in Costa Rica in 2014, when human rights organizations … Continue Reading

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Combative Witness Raises Questions about Witness Preparation at the ICC

Earlier this month a prosecution witness testifying in the trial of Dominic Ongwen at the International Criminal Court (ICC) made headlines when he was cautioned by the judges for his behavior on the witness stand. As a member of the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF), Witness P-003 intercepted radio communications between members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) during the conflict in northern Uganda, and he was called to The Hague testify about those communications.

However, upon cross-examination Ongwen’s lead defense lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, in an effort to impugn the witness’s credibility, presented a letter in court that alleged the witness acted inappropriately during intercept operations and drew a gun on an intelligence officer working from the same compound. The … Continue Reading

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The Thomas Kwoyelo Case at the ICD: Issues of Victim Participation

Victim participation is becoming a hallmark of transnational justice mechanisms and international criminal justice practices. While the focus should be on victims because they experience the horrors of atrocities that are committed, which these mechanisms seek to redress, they tend to have been marginalized in the past. If their privileges are recognized and met, victims can double as witnesses, can provide very useful information, and can contribute to restorative justice. This, however, is not practiced in common law jurisdictions where the focus is on retribution.

In 2008, Uganda established the International Crimes Division (ICD), which was born of the Juba Peace talks with the Lord’s Resistance (LRA) rebels who operated in northern Uganda and neighboring regions beyond the borders. The court … Continue Reading


Lessons from Chile for Kenya: Take Heart, the Fight for Accountability is Long

The experience in Chile shows that the quest for justice has been a long one.  As Kenyans come to terms with the failure of the International Criminal Court investigation and slow pace of domestic accountability for crimes committed during the post-election violence that occurred over nine years ago, they can perhaps learn from the painful experiences of Chile and other countries from around the world that ultimately, with sufficient perseverance, victims can achieve justice.

It has been almost 27 years since the end of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, and under the democracies that have followed, one persistent problem has been the pursuit of justice – but only “insofar as it is possible,” to paraphrase former president Patricio Aylwin. This … Continue Reading

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Calls for Reparations and a Speedy Trial Prevail as ICC President Visits Northern Uganda

 “The coming of the ICC President brings hope to the people of Lukodi. The court should also fasten the justice process because people have waited for too long.” – Gibson Okullu, community leader from Lukodi

From February 23 to March 1, the President of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, visited Uganda to see first-hand the activities of the ICC Trust Fund for Victims (TFV or Trust Fund) that support victims under its assistance mandate. President Fernández also used the mission as an opportunity to generate awareness and support for the Rome Statute of the ICC.

The above quote was part of the remarks made by Gibson Okullu, the local council chairperson for Lukodi, as he welcomed President Fernández to the … Continue Reading

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Why Community Members in Barlonyo ‘Feel Left Out’ of the Ongwen Trial

Located 26 kilometers north of Lira town is the tranquil village of Barlonyo. It is a quiet trading center that lies inconspicuously next to the River Moroto, in Lira district, in the Lango sub-region of Uganda. Behind its quiet and tranquil facade, Barlonyo harbors a dark past brought about by a massacre perpetrated by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in February 2004. For this reason, Barlonyo is also home to a monument bearing the remains of 121 LRA victims.

Late in the afternoon on February 21, 2004, LRA rebels, allegedly under the leadership of Okot Odhiambo, attacked the Barlonyo internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camp, subdued the small contingent of Ugandan government soldiers based there, and engaged in a burning … Continue Reading

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Stocktaking: Reactions to Ongwen’s Trial Thus Far

It has been over two months since the trial of Dominic Ongwen started at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands. Once a commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Ongwen is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the former Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps of Lukodi, Odek, Pajule, and Abok in northern Uganda. His trial began on December 6, 2016, with opening statements from the ICC prosecutor and lawyers representing victims in the case. On January 16, the main phase of the trial commenced with the prosecution presenting its first witness. On February 3, Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt announced that the court would take a three weeks’ break … Continue Reading

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