International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

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

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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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Relatives in Coorom Say Ongwen Deserves Forgiveness

Approximately 40 kilometers north of Gulu town lies the little village of Coorom, located in Lamogi Sub-County, Amuru District, Uganda. Coorom is the home of Dominic Ongwen, the former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who is currently on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Prior to the capture Ongwen in 2015, Coorom was just another quiet and tranquil village in post-conflict northern Uganda, struggling to re-establish itself after many years of fighting. However, after the capture of Ongwen, Coorom has risen to prominence, attracting researchers and transitional justice practitioners. In addition, since the trial of Ongwen started in December 2016, the ICC field office in Uganda … Continue Reading

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How Tens of Thousands Attended the Opening of Ongwen’s Trial in Uganda

On December 6, 2016, the trial of Dominic Ongwen opened before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands. Ongwen is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in northern Uganda while in the service of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

A number of people, including academics, journalists, representatives of civil society organizations, and even Ugandans living in the Netherlands turned up at the ICC headquarters in The Hague to witness the opening of the trial. Among the people who traveled to witness the opening of the trial was a delegation of 10 Ugandans, who were sponsored by the ICC field office in Uganda, with funding from the Danish Embassy. The delegation was … Continue Reading

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We Matter: Putting Victims at the Helm of the Transitional Justice Ship in Uganda

Transitional justice discussions around victims, particularly in reference to northern Uganda, often collapse victims’ interests into two broad categories. On the one hand, sweeping claims are made that all victims are interested in reconciliation, which is a key aspect of traditional justice mechanisms. While another set of victims, reportedly, prefers court prosecutions. Each interest is often presented as being in competition, contrary, and in exclusion of all other transitional justice processes.

The result is a rather simplistic definition of what victims want, largely on the basis of their geographical location. A review of the literature on victim interests in the transitional justice process in Uganda will unearth numerous claims on what the “victims of northern Uganda,” and/or the “Acholi victims” desire. … Continue Reading

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