This week’s My Justice guest is Lino Owor Ogora, a member of the Foundation for Justice and Development Initiative in Uganda. During the Assembly of States Parties meeting last week, Ogora talked about how going back to northern Uganda changed his life and what needs to be done for the victims in his country.
“In 2003, I went to northern Uganda. I was born there, but I left when I was a baby. I only went back when I started my internship at the university. At that time, the humanitarian situation was horrible. Children were sleeping on the streets for the fear of being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Civilians were being killed daily. Internally displaced people’s camps were being set up everywhere, and the suffering in those camps was painful to see.
“Being in such an environment somehow influenced my decisions. After I completed my degree in social work and social integration, I decided to go back and work in northern Uganda. I’m still based there.
“I’ve been working with victims’ communities since 2006. I began as a researcher, documenting the perceptions of victims, especially what they feel needs to be done regarding punishing perpetrators who committed human rights violations and war crimes. Eventually, I moved to documenting crimes that were committed and victims’ experiences.
“If we talk about the whole of northern Uganda, there could be millions of LRA victims. The Foundation for Justice and Development Initiative aims at clearly presenting their views, perspectives and wishes – what they would like to happen.
The perception of this kind of crimes in Uganda is a bit unique and different from the rest of the world
“Here, international justice has been marketed as something foreign, something alien, something that divides communities. It faced a lot of opposition. People didn’t understand it and felt it would deter the Lord’s Resistance Army from signing a peace agreement. For a long time, the perception of international justice was quite skewed and biased.
“In 2005, when the ICC began its investigation, I was there. Like many civil society organisations at that time, our focus was mainly on ending the conflict and civilian suffering. Unfortunately, the ICC chief prosecutor at the time, Luis Moreno Ocampo, didn’t listen to us. He wasn’t sensitive about the topic. Our initial reaction to the ICC wasn’t really good. But thank God, the conflict ended and we began looking at other options to pursue accountability. Step by step, communities also began having a more positive view of it.
The ICC is an ally, an avenue through which victims can get justice
“This is strengthened by the fact that in Uganda, our government, for example, or our national court is not taking the matter of accountability very seriously. The judges are competent, but our courts are driven by political influence, and the government doesn’t really give them a lot of support. This leaves us with the ICC as one of the options for pursuing justice for the victims.
“The main challenge for us is managing expectations, which are really high. There are expectations for justice and also for reparations. Victims suffered for so many years, and they have been told time and again that justice is on its way, that this will happen. Prosecution is going to take place. They are going to receive reparations…but unfortunately, this is not happening. They get frustrated. We have to keep explaining to them what is happening, keep their hopes alive, keep the interest high and keep them informed. It’s quite a big challenge for us.
Things need to move faster. Trials need to be conducted quickly and concluded quickly
“It’s taking quite a long time. It’s now 2015, and we’ve not yet had anything. We are only supposed to have a confirmation of charges in 2016, and after that, nobody knows how long the trial is going to take. So we are looking at something from 2005 to now and maybe the next 5 years. That’s 15 years. Some victims have already died. Some are living with medical conditions. Things need to move faster. I’m not positive this will happen. I’ve already been warned by officials at the ICC that trials take time.
“But, in the meantime, what we would advocate for is having some assistance for the victims. For example, the Trust Fund for Victims needs to scale up its operations. The ICC can work with the Trust Fund to really give assistance to victims who need it.
Anything that improves the lives of the victims, that improves their welfare, is justice for me
“Anything that empowers them is justice for me. Anything that promotes healing for the victims, for the experiences that they went through, is justice for me. Anything that enables them to recover their soci0-economic status is justice for me. Many victims lost their livelihoods, and they are struggling to move forward. Justice is anything that enables victims to recover from these bad experiences, to get more empowered both socially and economically and to live their lives with dignity. That is justice for me.”
Lead image: Lino Owor Ogora (Photo: Emanuele del Rosso/Justice Hub)