Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Thomas Kwoyelo Trial Monitoring Update: June 11, 2018

Confirmation of charges hearing postponed; Kwoyelo wants to change lawyers
The confirmation of charges hearing against Thomas Kwoyelo has been postponed to July 23, 2018, due to lack of quorum from the defense team; only one lawyer representing the accused showed up for the hearing at the International Crimes Division-ICD sitting at the High court in Kampala on Monday 11th June, 2018. Note that the defense team comprises of four lawyers, two of whom were selected through state brief and the others by the accused himself. This defense team has consistently failed to attend three consecutive court sessions, the most recent being that of 11th June 2018. While responding to the Judge Hon. Justice Susan Okallany, Dalton Opwonya the only counsel present at the time argued that letters were served late: “We were informed through an email about a month ago, and although a physical summon was required, it was submitted to us a week ago. We are not ready to proceed because other defense lawyers couldn’t make it, and for the accused to have his rights properly, his representatives should all be present,” Opwonya argued.
Kwoyelo is currently facing 93 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 20 year conflict in northern Uganda.
The defense also noted that they received documents from the prosecution showing that they wanted to amend the indictment. “I learnt later, and my client Kwoyelo was surprised to know,” Opwonya said. It should be noted that the current indictment has already been amended several times. The defense further requested that a translator be assigned to translate the charges for the accused while in prison and hearing dates to be announced to Kwoyelo in time. Both the prosecution and victims’ counsel did not object these submissions. They agreed that for the interest of justice the defense’ prayers should be granted.
Meanwhile during the session Thomas Kwoyelo expressed discontent in the court procedures categorically stating that he was only informed of the hearing a day before: “I would like to know the proceedings of this hearing. I just received a letter today about this session. I would like to know why they can’t inform me in time. My concern is that I should be served with documents as required if truly I am the one being tried.” Kwoyelo angrily said.
He also asked court to allow him change lawyers, a request that was granted although he has to follow the required legal procedures. Kwoyelo said he would like to reinstate his previous lawyer-Nicholas Opio and that he already made contact with him.
The judge hinted on the lack of seriousness of the defense lawyers, “The lawyers whom you selected yourself did not give you a copy of the documents; it means they are not good lawyers; they have missed three sessions. You have to summon and talk to them because it seems they have left you alone. Your request is valid though.” She noted. The Judge further advised Kwoyelo to get lawyers who are more committed to his case because in her view the current lawyers are not. She also gave Kwoyelo a last chance to present lawyers of his choice in the next hearing.
The judge gave a clear time frame for presenting skeleton submissions by all parties. The confirmation of charges hearing was adjourned to 23rd July, 2018.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Dominic Ongwen Trial Monitoring Update: May 15, 2018

Former child abductees face ‘cen’ and need cleansing: Psychologist tells court

“Former child abductees face serious effects and a significant number develop post-traumatic stress disorders.” Prof. Michael Gibbs Wessels a Psychologist and Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University (USA) told court during the trial hearings of Dominic Ongwen. Prof. Gibbs is also a psycho-social and child protection practitioner who worked in Uganda for 10 years(1998-2008).

Education was my hope; my future and I have lost it.” Prof. Gibbs quoted in open court how a former abductee expressed her feelings about being abducted:He also stated that there is a likelihood of intergenerational transmission of trauma which will likely affect the families of children who were affected for generations.

Prof. Gibbs told the court that former LRA child abductees still face the burden of stigma, burden of being born out of wedlock, being a rebel child,inability to interact properly, engaging in unruly behavior, inability to create and maintain lasting relationships and feelings of guilt which in turn escalates to depression and trauma.
Prof. Gibbs further added that formerly abducted children also face what can be termed as ‘cen. ‘Cen’is an Acholi word used to describe a super natural manifestation, haunting a perpetrator. He recommended cultural rituals be done to break this psyche mentality.

In so saying, Prof. Gibbs was referring to cultural rituals like “Nyono tong gweno” (Stepping on the egg) that the Acholi believe in to remove the ‘cen’ and pacify the victims.He also noted that the resilient nature of Acholi children doesn’t mean they don’t need support urging that rituals have to be part of the healing process. “That is what people in Acholi land want- to remove the ‘cen’ It is much better than imposing western treatment,” he concluded.
The Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD) is a Pan African organization working for social justice in Africa with a specific focus on peaceful communities, sustainable livelihoods and healthy lives.  The Foundation for Justice and Development (FJDI) works with children, youth, women and communities to promote justice, development and economic recovery in northern Uganda. ACORD and FJDI are monitoring the trial of Dominic Ongwen with support from the European Commission, under a project titled, “Promoting Justice and Accountability for Conflict Affected Communities in Northern Uganda and West-Nile Regions of Uganda.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Dominic Ongwen Trial Monitoring Update: May 14, 2018

Psychiatric report reveals lifelong post trauma stress disorders among victims of sexual violence

On May 14, 2018, Mr.  Daryn Scott Reicherteran, a Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Laboratory at Stanford University presented his report on the effects of sexual violence on survivors. The report revealed that victims of sexual violence suffer lifelong post trauma stress disorder (PTSD), and the effects extend to their families, children and their ability to operate in a social setting. In the report, he also stated that it is very rare for a survivor of rape to not have a long-term trauma effects and that almost no survivor of rape has complete wellness at any point in life. Prof. Daryn who is also a cross-cultural trauma-mental health expert was testifying in the trial of Dominic Ongwen at the ICC sitting in The Hague.

Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in attacks on four camps for internally displaced people (IDP) between July 2002 and December 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Prof. Daryn told the court that Sexual violence affects victims at all stages of growth and that a child born of rape may not be accepted by the mother or the community, and other traits such as hard times completing school, lack of trust in self and in others, propensity to have love experience, and inability to recall events while in a court room, because they find it stressful to recount such events in front of strangers. He further told court that having flashbacks of bad events can affect the mental state that may compel survivors to develop syndromes such as avoiding important events in the society. Prof. Daryn further lamented that, “reintegration in family is a problem in most settings especially if the rape results in pregnancy, even harder in Northern Uganda basing on interviews with survivors and experts working in the region.” He also told court that, “if there are no resources/improvement in treatment facilities, it can be an aggravating factor of mental stress to victims. Treatment avenues should be provided whether at an early stage or later stage,” he said. In summary Prof. Daryn said survivors of sexual violence have more timid instabilities than expressed and that bad mental health state is a big thing to be addressed at all stages in this trial.
The Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD) is a Pan African organization working for social justice in Africa with a specific focus on peaceful communities, sustainable livelihoods and healthy lives.  The Foundation for Justice and Development (FJDI) works with children, youth, women and communities to promote justice, development and economic recovery in northern Uganda. ACORD and FJDI are monitoring the trial of Dominic Ongwen with support from the European Commission, under a project titled, “Promoting Justice and Accountability for Conflict Affected Communities in Northern Uganda and West-Nile Regions of Uganda.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Witness Says Ongwen Feared Escaping the LRA Because of ICC Arrest Warrant

A former captain of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he confided in Dominic Ongwen nine years ago about his plans to escape the rebel group, hoping Ongwen would join him.
Witness P-209 told the court Ongwen listened to his proposal but told him that he feared the ICC arrest warrant issued against him. Witness P-209 said he did not fear Ongwen would reveal his plans because he knew at the time Ongwen was not on good terms with LRA leader Joseph Kony, just like himself. Both of them knew they could be killed at any time.

The witness testified in the trial of Ongwen between Tuesday, February 27, and Wednesday, February 28. Ongwen, a former LRA commander, has been charged for his alleged role in a long list of crimes allegedly committed between July 2002 and December 2005.

The crimes Ongwen has been charged with include attacks on four camps for internally displaced people (IDP), sex crimes, and conscripting child soldiers. In total, he is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Witness P-209 told the court that from the time he was abducted in 1994 he feared escaping the LRA because, among other things, he had seen at least one person killed when that person was caught after trying to escape. He said it was only in 2008 that he decided to escape because he concluded he could do so without risking the lives of his fellow villagers. Witness P-209 said he had witnessed that when someone escaped from the LRA, the village they were from was attacked as punishment for that person escaping.

He did not explain in open court why he thought that would not happen in 2008, but one explanation may be that that year the LRA was not in Uganda and most LRA members were camped in two areas, Ri-Kwangba and Owiny Ki-Bul, along the border of Sudan and Congo. This was a condition for peace talks at that time that the then autonomous government of Southern Sudan mediated.

Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, followed up on this issue of villages being collectively punished for the escape of an LRA member when he cross-examined Witness P-209 on February 28.
“You are abducted forcefully, if you are lucky and able to escape without being caught again then they would go to your area, the area where you were abducted from. Whether or not they find you is beside the point,” said Witness P-209, adding that the LRA killed whomever they found in the village.

To read further follow the link below:

Monday, 12 March 2018

How the ICC Field Office in Uganda is Using SMS to Update Communities about the Ongwen Trial

In northern Uganda, many people have expressed interest in following the trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen. However, most people are unable to do so on a regular basis due to lack of convenient channels. For this reason, the International Criminal Court (ICC) field office in Uganda began disseminating information through short message services (SMS) or text messages. This article explores perspectives of select community members in Lukodi village regarding the effectiveness of the initiative.

Ongwen, a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been on trial since December 6, 2016. 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, Abok, Pajule, and Odek.

The ICC field office in Uganda is tasked with disseminating information and updating the public about Ongwen’s trial in order to promote community and victim participation. To accomplish this, the field office traditionally relied on conventional approaches, such as community outreach events, public screenings, radio programs, and dissemination meetings. In April 2017, however, the field office launched a free interactive SMS platform designed to create awareness and engage local communities in the Ongwen trial.

As Maria Kamara, ICC Outreach Coordinator for Kenya and Uganda, pointed out, “The centrality of victims and affected communities to our various engagements drives the quest to continuously explore new, innovative, and cost-effective ways through which victims, affected communities and various stakeholders can have access to and participate in the judicial processes. The SMS platform was therefore identified as [a] feasible and cost-effective approach that can complementarily feed into the already existing Outreach initiatives.

For more follow the link below:

Monday, 4 December 2017


Although there is relative peace, people of northern Uganda are still suffering the effects of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) war—a war that left many in the state of despair. A myriad of factors hinder the victims and survivors to attain healing and forge live beyond what happened: the delayed and/or lack of justice for war crimes, the paucity of reparations, and the lack of government support for victims of rape and those afflicted by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Social healing in northern Uganda can be achieved by tackling these issues from all sides. From increasing the opportunity for dialogue on how and when reparations will be provided, providing information on the on-going trials of the perpetrators of the LRA war, supporting the mental well being of person afflicted by trauma, enhancing the economic status of victims and memorializing the past among others.

While there have been concerted efforts to tackle the above mentioned obstacles to healing in communities affected by the LRA war in northern Uganda, memorization as a critical link to the other aspects has been limited. Today in northern Uganda, the concept of memory has been limited to concrete monuments with names of victims which provide somewhat less impact in facilitating social healing. Therefore there is need to explore memory through other lenses. For example, through the creation of physical spaces that preserve and transmit memory.

Why memorization in northern Uganda

Currently implementing a memorial project in Lukodi village in Gulu district, northern Uganda, the Foundation of Justice and Development Initiatives (FJDI) spoke to community members on what this project meant to them.  

Many of the children you see today were born in the camps. All they know is the sufferings we went through while in the camps. The photos, body maps, timeline of events and physical maps of how the rebels use to operate will serve as an education avenue for them to know how the sufferings they witnessed in camps came about” said a member of the community reconciliation team

“We were part of the events that happened during the LRA war, it’s important that we tell the young ones of today so they can learn about the dangers of war” another member added

Aware that history shapes the future, the site to be established will help provide a historical account of events as they unfolded during the conflicts. At FJDI, we strongly believe that when spaces to acknowledge accounts and memories of what happened in the past are availed to communities affected by conflict, it facilitates the recovery process making it easy for victims and survivors alike to move forward.


Monday, 24 July 2017

International Justice Day in Uganda Focuses on Ongwen’s Trial as Community Members Quiz ICC Officials at a Town Hall Meeting

July 17 is globally recognized as the “World Day for International Justice,” also referred to as the “Day of International Criminal Justice” or “International Justice Day.” The day is commemorated around the world as part of an effort to recognize the emerging system of international criminal justice and to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Since the ICC intervened in the Ugandan situation 13 years ago, International Justice Day in Uganda has revolved around activities of the court.  With the trial of Dominic Ongwen currently ongoing before the ICC, it is not surprising that this year’s commemoration focused the Ongwen case.
Ongwen is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in attacks on camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. He has also been charged with sexual and gender-based crimes, including the crime of forced marriage. This article recounts the celebrations held in Uganda to mark International Justice Day and questions that were asked following a public screening of the Ongwen trial conducted by the ICC in Gulu.

In Uganda’s capital Kampala, the ICC launched an “Access to Justice” project in collaboration with the Danish Embassy in Uganda. The project is aimed at facilitating the ICC’s continuous efforts to respond to the information demands of the communities affected by the conflict in northern Uganda. The major highlight of the project was the donation of television screens and radios to 23 communities in northern Uganda that will enhance the capacity of the local population in northern Uganda to follow the proceedings against Ongwen. The project will also strengthen capacity of the religious and cultural leaders to further engage the members of their respective communities on issues related to the court.

In Gulu district in northern Uganda, July 17 was marked by a public town hall screening of past court sessions of Ongwen’s trial. The screening was conducted in both English and Acholi languages and attracted several members of the public. After the screening, community members were given an opportunity to ask questions regarding the case.

There were many basic questions asked about the functioning of the ICC by participants. Examples included: does the ICC have soldiers of its own and why there were no black judges sitting on the bench of the trial of Ongwen trial?

The ICC representative fielding questions explained that the ICC has no military force and relies on the member countries to effect arrests. In response to the question on judges, the representative explained that ICC judges are elected from all over the world and stressed that they are elected based on their qualifications and experience, not their skin color or nationality.

Questions were also sparked by what community members heard and saw during the screening. One participant remarked that he heard a voice similar to LRA leader Joseph Kony’s speaking in Langi language, appreciating Ongwen for being a good fighter. The participant asked how it was possible that Kony could speak Langi, yet he was an Acholi by tribe. The ICC representative clarified that the audio heard in the video was only from witnesses who appeared before the court. The ICC representative also informed the gathering that most of the witnesses who have testified to date were former LRA rebels who had served under the leadership of Ongwen.

The video footage also showed LRA soldiers putting on new army uniforms, so another participant asked to know where the LRA fighters received their supplies of army uniforms. The ICC representative responded that this was a matter for the court to determine during hearings if deemed relevant.

Many questions arose about prosecution and trial strategy. One participant asked why the court charged Ongwen with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The participant felt that the huge number of counts made it appear as though Ongwen was being made to shoulder the burden for all the crimes committed by the LRA. The court representative explained that Ongwen was being tried for attacks that happened in four IDP camps and that the charges were commensurate given the high level of atrocities committed during the attacks and the large number of civilians who died in the process.

Another participant asked to know what strategies the prosecution and defense were using to choose witnesses to testify in the trial. The ICC representative responded that the decision on what type of witness to call was entirely at the discretion of the prosecution and defense counsel depending on the type of information they were looking for.

One person asked why the ICC had not waited for Kony and other commanders to be arrested before commencing the trial of Ongwen. The participant reasoned that because the arrest warrants for the five top LRA commanders were all issued at the same time, they should have been tried at the same time. The ICC representative responded that the court could not wait until all rebel leaders had been arrested and had to try Ongwen separately in order to expedite the trial in accordance with international fair trial standards.

The ICC investigation also appears one-sided to some. In particular, one participant asked why the ICC had failed to prosecute individuals from the government of Uganda who fought against the LRA. The ICC representative responded that the ICC had not failed to prosecute the government for crimes committed by its soldiers, but it lacked proof and evidence required to make a case under law.

Community members were also interested to know more about the rights of Ongwen. For example, does he have the right to appeal in the event he is convicted and where would his sentence be served? The court representative explained that Ongwen had a right to make an appeal in the event of a conviction. He also explained that, if convicted, Ongwen would have to serve his sentence in an ICC member country because the ICC does not have its own prison.

Another participant asked whether there was a possibility that Ongwen’s case could be referred back to  Ugandan courts. The ICC representative responded that the ICC gives countries the option to request a case to be withdrawn and tried domestically through an appeals process. However, he noted that Uganda  had not made this request.

Regarding the slow pace of the trial, one participant asked why the ICC has not set a specific time frame for the completion of Ongwen’s case. The ICC representative could only say that it was very difficult to set a time frame due to many unforeseen circumstances that could delay the case.
There is still a very large information gap about how the ICC operates that exists in northern Uganda, particularly among conflict-affected communities. While the move by the ICC to provide television screens and radios will help in enhancing these communities’ ability to follow the trial, the above questions indicate a need for sustained outreach throughout the trial.

Lino Owor Ogora is a peace-building practitioner who has worked with victims of conflict in northern Uganda 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.