Symposium on Dominic Ongwen Case: Prepare Victims to Receive Reparations

Symposium on Dominic Ongwen Case: Prepare Victims to Receive Reparations

[Sylvia Acan is a survivor; abducted at 13 years, Sylvia lived in captivity for almost 8 years. Following her repatriation, Sylvia returned to school and completed tertiary level education. In 2011, she founded Golden Women Vision Uganda to provide support to women and children victims of the LRA war, including many victims of Dominic Ongwen.]

I am a survivor of the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda and am very pleased to be sharing my thoughts on the reparations decision via this platform. The decision by judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to award reparations to victims of Dominic Ongwen is a very important one for all victims of the war in Northern Uganda, not only for those who suffered directly from the crimes committed by Ongwen. Reparations are important and as victims, we have been advocating for them for a very long time. This has been our song.

In this post I share my views on what the ICC needs to do to make the reparations process effective including preparing victims to receive the funds; and why it is important to verify which victims should receive reparations. I also share a few thoughts on community reparations.

Identifying and Verifying Eligible Victims

The judge’s reparations order of €52,429,000 for approximately 49,772 potentially eligible direct and indirect victims of Ongwen is good, but I am not sure if the court’s estimate adequately represents the actual numbers of those who suffered harm from his crimes. There needs to be clear identification and verification of the rightful victims in the case, because the numbers could be much more than what the Court estimated. 

The court has decided to award collective reparations and an individual payment of €750 each to those who they identify to be Ongwen victims. If the court only gives reparations to the ones who they have identified, what will happen to others who have suffered? It is important to remember that there are different types of victims. Some who were physically abducted and lived in captivity; others whose children were taken or killed and they were not, possibly because they were too old. What about them, what will happen to those people? 

If this issue is not dealt with properly, it could bring war to the greater North of Uganda because, already some of the survivors of the war who are not considered Ongwen’s victims are asking, “what about me?” They might say, “I will wait until you get the money, then you divide also for me.” Reparations are a good idea but we have to look at it from the perspective of those who have suffered from the LRA’s actions more broadly. They should not be excluded, otherwise, everybody will start calling themselves Ongwen’s victims.

The Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) and the ICC Registry need to work with survivor organisations to identify and verify who all the victims and survivors are. Women and survivor-lead organisations like mine know those who are the real survivors, and we should be involved in these processes. My organisation, Golden Women Vision Uganda, works with survivors of the LRA war and we maintain lists of different categories of victims. The TFV should identify which organisations are working with survivors and contact us. Consultation is important. 

Victims must be Prepared to Receive Reparations

The court’s decision to award €750 to the victims individually is a positive development that will help to take some of them to the next level. It will be a form of empowerment for women who can start small businesses to help to lift themselves out of poverty, meet the household needs and pay school fees for their children. For some, they could even purchase a small piece of land and build their own grass-thatched hut. 

However, there should be guidance for how the money will be given out. If not, many of those who receive reparations will be caught unawares and be unprepared to receive money. Some people may start bragging about their money, which could result in jealousy and tension, including physical abuse from those who do not have. 

Furthermore, some survivors have mental and psychological challenges. Some of them are mentally ill, especially the women who have been gangraped and they are suffering silently from mental sickness because of the trauma they experienced. Thus, we need to consider the psychosocial and mental needs of the survivors who will receive reparations. 

This process needs to start even before reparations are handed out so that by the time they receive the money, their mind is healed, they are well protected and they know what they are going to do with this money. Failure to adequately prepare survivors could lead to alcoholism, drug use and increased gender-based violence. By involving the survivor-lead organisations in this process, the Trust Fund will be better placed to identify those who may have mental and psycho-social issues.

Community Reparations

Community reparations is the best way to ensure that all victims, not only victims of Ongwen, benefit from reparations. Something should be put in the community which will benefit that entire community. For example, in Lukodi where the massacre took place, there can be a memorial site which becomes a tourist attraction. Women can make and sell craft items to the tourists and generate an income. The money should be pooled in a village savings programme which can help the vulnerable survivors. It should not bring violence to the community but bring them together.

Or, there could, for example, be a hospital to deal with our health matters. This would benefit other vulnerable victims. If a hospital is put in place under a community reparations programme, the community and the government should be involved. The government needs to ensure that the doctors are in place, including psychiatrists, and the community will help with the maintenance. The psychiatrists can provide the psycho-social support for the survivors but there are normally very few of them in health facilities and they need to increase the number.

I am very happy that the Chamber recognised the children born of war as direct victims. They are now adults and they want education. At the community level they should build a school where these children can study for free. I remember when I came back, I had to struggle to study and now at least I can speak English and use technology to support my fellow survivors. Those who did not go to secondary school, they can get skills training and this would help them to have a future. Collective reparations can also take the form of job creation for the women and the children. The children are growing up, they need jobs. 


The Ongwen decision has helped to strengthen the victims because it recognises them and lets them know that they have not been forgotten. Others cannot talk as they are already dead but this reparations order is like medicine to survivors like me. Even though I am not directly a victim of Ongwen, I (like many others) also suffered. We would not have been involved in this if Joseph Kony had not started the war. Everyone was impacted. Women and children have been the most affected and many of them are living with chronic wounds, both physical and psychological which have not healed because the process of getting assistance and compensation has taken a long time. Even our men are suffering but are afraid to speak out about what has happened to them.

The decision gives victims hope that they will finally be compensated for the harm they have experienced. However, there is need for training for those who are going to receive the reparations. They need to train them in how to use the funds and why they are receiving it. Those who are not going to get reparations should also receive a clear explanation about why they are not going to receive it so that you don’t have violence and another war breaking out in the Greater North. At the end of the day, reparations should not be limited to only those who suffered because of Ongwen. 

The government of Uganda also needs to do its part. The transitional justice process is taking a long time and should have been in place to guide the entire reparations process. When there are no guidelines, it will make the process more complicated. The Transitional Justice Policy needs to be worked on very fast to turn it into a law. While the government waits for the ICC to hand out reparations, preparation for reparations should continue. There needs to be results-oriented guidelines in place so that when the evaluation takes place, you know what has or has not worked and the right tools to be used in this process.

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Africa, Featured, General, Public International Law, Symposia, Themes
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