Managing Expectations of Victims and Sustaining Community Outreach

Managing Expectations of Victims and Sustaining Community Outreach

[Stephen A. Lamony is an International Lawyer writing from Gulu City, northern Uganda.]


On May 6, 2021, Trial Chamber IX of the International Criminal Court (ICC) sentenced Dominic Ongwen to 25 years of imprisonment for murder, rape, and sexual enslavement. On the same day, the Chamber issued an order for submissions on reparations stating that the “reparations phase of the proceedings should advance as efficiently and expeditiously as possible, avoiding unnecessary delays.”  

On July 21 and August 26, 2021, Ongwen’s Defense team filed its appeal briefs against the conviction and the sentence. The ICC Appeals Chamber held a hearing on 14 – 18 February 2022 to hear submissions and observations by the parties and participants on these appeals. The Chamber will decide in due course. Victims and various organizations are hopeful that the Ugandan Government and the ICC will implement reparations modalities and, if implemented as recommended by some of these organizations, that they would repair the harm caused to victims. The reparations process is on hold because of the pending appeals decision. 

This article will examine some of the complexities and structural issues of reparations and efforts to provide services to populations that might not otherwise have access to those services following Ongwen’s conviction.

Complexities and Structural Matters

If the Appeals chamber upholds the conviction and sentence decisions, the reparations process will move forward as decided by Trial Chamber IX. The reparations phase is the most critical phase for victims of Ongwen’s case, who expect to receive reparations. It would be the first of its kind in the history of the conflict between the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The critical issues of concern or for consideration are the need for: 

  1. meaningful reparations coupled with in-depth victim consultation.
  2. robust outreach to all stakeholders, victims and victim communities. Further, there is an outreach gap. Victims of crimes committed by Dominic Ongwen have benefitted from ongoing outreach. In contrast, the victims of the two thematic crimes of sexual and gender-based crimes and the enlistments of children below the age of fifteen years into the LRA ranks in the Sinia Brigade in Lango, Acholi, Teso, and Madi sub-regions have not been covered by outreach activities.
  3. consideration of individual and communal reparations.

First, there needs to be more comprehensive consultation of victims of the case to consider their needs, concerns, and aspirations, especially of victims of sexual and gender-based violence, children born of war, people with disabilities, widows, women, and the elders.

On May 6, 2021, judges of Trial Chamber IX issued an order requesting submissions from the parties and participants on reparations.  However, the judges limited the submission time until September 6, 2021. Because of the pandemic, some organizations were able to meet the submission deadline (such as the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative and The Uganda Association of Women Lawyers), while others were not. Thus, a more comprehensive consultation is needed to ensure that relevant parties have a meaningful opportunity to make their voices heard before the court—only then will the process have legitimacy.. The staff of the ICC field office in Uganda and the Government of Uganda, in collaboration with other stakeholders, can play a crucial role in reaching out to and mobilizing the affected communities to seek their views on reparations.

Second, given the limited scope of the case, if both the conviction and sentence are upheld, only the 4095 victims of Ongwen’s crimes shall be entitled to reparations. However, there are hundreds of thousands of victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war who will not qualify for reparations. Continuous engagement through outreach to explain the reparations process could help mitigate potential conflict. Outreach should be part and parcel of the whole process. Outreach activities can address questions such as how the court identifies victims, victim’s eligibility, which victims are entitled to reparations under the Court’s process, and other questions victims may have. An outreach program is fundamental during the process to publicly inform the program, promote inclusiveness and transparency, build a sense of ownership, address perception and manage expectations. If any gap between the Trust Fund’s objectives and the communities’ perception is not addressed, achieving the goals set for the reparations order won’t be easy. 

Third, there is a need for the Judges to consider both individual and communal reparations, since there is a large number of victims in this case. Some victims will have suffered individual crimes like rape, bodily injury, and other harms that will require individual reparations. Other people may be less interested in communal reparations because in their view, such reparations have no direct benefit to them. Reparations must be meaningful to those receiving them to fulfill their purpose.

Lastly, designing multifaceted reparations programs maximize impact, resources, and victim satisfaction regardless of the reparation’s mechanism.

Concluding recommendations 

International Criminal Court

Since LRA Commander Joseph Kony has not surrendered or been arrested, the field office needs to be robust in case there is a new development in the situation in Uganda. 

The ICC field office in Uganda needs to maximize the gains in delivering justice to the affected communities in northern Uganda by ensuring the delivery of adequate and meaningful reparations to the victims in northern Uganda, galvanizing the principle of cooperation and/or complementary to ensure the government of Uganda supports the reparations cause through the existing legal frameworks of the Ugandan Government (for example, the National Transitional Justice Policy) that elaborately provides for reparations.

Given the importance of this case for the situation in northern Uganda, ICC outreach is vital, and it should be a continuous element throughout the reparations process. Outreach should continue until the end of the reparations process. 

Ugandan Government

The Government of Uganda, ICC staff, and their civil society partners can play a role in creating awareness about several matters that remain unclear for the citizens of Uganda. Therefore, public involvement is crucial to transitional goals. 

Though ICC reparations are important, the truth is that they are limited and will only address the harm experienced by a fraction of victims from the LRA war. Such disparities in relief for victims could cause confusion and conflict among Ugandans. 

In order to address these challenges, the Ugandan government should fill in the gap by providing reparations to the victims of the LRA crimes that will not benefit from reparations from the Ongwen case. The Parliament of Uganda should enact the long-awaited Transitional Justice law as part of the recognition of the harm offered and to facilitate the process of national reconciliation and long-term healing. During the consultation process, the Government should seek the views of traditional leaders and other key groups who did not submit their views to the ICC and whose views on reparations might be different from those already on record.

NGOs and Grassroots Organizations

Local and grassroots-based civil society organizations and other stakeholders should also play a role in reparations through advocacy, implementing and monitoring the reparations phase, and providing referrals for services such as  psychosocial support.

Assembly of States Parties

Reparations are critical to any transitional justice process, and an effective reparations process will be essential for the ICC’s legacy in Uganda. Outreach is crucial for the people of Uganda to understand the purpose of reparations, who will receive or not, why, and the International Criminal Court’s role in reparations. States Parties to the Rome Statute, particularly the Committee on Budget and Finance of the Assembly of States Parties, should ensure the Court receives adequate support for outreach. Only through a meaningful and effective process can the ICC be seen as a source of justice for the people of Uganda.

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