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.

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