Harriet Ssali Lule, Deputy Registrar of the International Crimes Division (ICD) Uganda, has been at the Yugoslav Tribunal in The Hague (ICTY), for the past few months, examining how an international criminal tribunal is run.
She spoke at an event at the Asser Institute on the day that Dominic Ongwen, former commander of the Ugandan rebel group the LRA, was transferred to the ICC’s detention unit to face trial on charges of crimes against humanity.
“I have really found that there’s a great divide between reality on the ground and what’s being talked about at universities and at institutions.
“In my country Uganda the question is always why is it taking so long? Why so many technicalities? Why are people always talking about complementarity and failure of national jurisdictions? Why does all that matter? What matters is that there are victims. People were killed. There was a war. And people want justice. But we get all these questions about domesticizing the Rome Statute. About the ICC Act and things that people just do not understand.
So now look at what’s happening. We’ve got two Courts [the ICC and Uganda’s International Crimes Division(ICD)] to try the same kinds of war crimes in the same country. Interesting. Amazing. And there are all these questions about amnesty.
“When amnesty was introduced in Uganda it was during the war. People were tired of dying, children were being abducted, Joseph Kony was not getting arrested. US forces were looking for him, nothing was happening. So the government said amnesty could do the trick and it did do the trick.
“But is peace justice? Or does justice create peace? That’s the million dollar question. If you look at the victims of the war then the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] war has been very unique in that it has created two different types of victims. You’ve got the victims of the war: the people who were killed raped abused. The normal type of victims. Then you’ve got the other victims the soldiers themselves who were abducted. Girls and boys. Some as young as eight who were abducted and forced to become soldiers. So how do you manage that?
“I can’t forget an article I read recently an interview with the wife of Dominic Ongwen. She ran away – she managed to escape in 2005 or 2006. She’s called Florence Ayot and when she heard that her “husband” – war husband – was captured she said ‘oh but he’s a good man. He was abducted when he was ten years old, I was abducted when I was 9 years old’. And I thought to myself this is so wrong: a wife who was 9 and a soldier who was 10. I mean I wanted if I was with her in the same room, to shake her and say wake up. This is just so wrong. You cannot think this is right. But unfortunately that was her reality for 20 years until she managed to escape…
“When Joseph Kony [took over a rebel movement in northern Uganda] he tried to get the people to rise up against the government. But when they didn’t he turned on the civilians themselves. You won’t support me so I’m going to kill you. And that’s how the war started. And everything started to go wrong in the north. The LRA began to torture people and Joseph Kony started a trend of self-preservation. What he would do is abduct children, train them to become soldiers and they would fight for him. UN statistics show that about 25,000 children have been abducted by Joseph Kony. Other stats show 60,000 have been abducted. So that’s what they would do, they would kill children and they would create child soldiers. And he had a very bad habit of torturing by cutting off lips, noses, and ears. I don’t know why. But that was a trademark.
“I remember one day I was using public transport I was going to the office. A lady sat next to me. I looked at her and she had no lips and I was just so shocked. There was just a gaping hole where her lips would have been and her teeth were gaping out. That’s when I realized how much harm Joseph Kony had done. He would burn people alive even children. And that’s how he would instil fear in people so that people would start to support his army….
“Today what’s happening? Dominic Ongwen was captured and he’s been brought here. Great! But now there are all these questions. Why has he been brought to the ICC? Why isn’t the ICD trying him? Maybe there’s no confidence in the ICD? It would be interesting to have someone from the ministry of justice to explain that, but think it was maybe a political move. But from my point of view, I think there are three questions we need to look at when looking at the Dominic Ongwen situation. One: The crimes spread from Uganda to other countries: so you’re looking at Congo, South Sudan, Uganda and the Central African Republic. Two: the ICC arrest warrants were issued before the ICD came into existence. And Three: we still have an amnesty act in place.
“Joseph Kony is still at large. We are hoping and praying that this surrender or capture of Dominic Ongwen has severely weakened the LRA and Joseph Kony will soon surrender. But he’s still at large operating somewhere in the Central African Republic.”
See the interview with Ongwen’s wife here.
For background on Ongwen q and a click here.
Find information about who else is in the ICC Detention Unit here.
For the discussion on whether Ongwen is victim or perpetrator click here.