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Lino Owor Ogora comparing the ICC and domestic courts in their handling of Ugandan victims

Lino Owor Ogora is the Director of the Foundation for Justice and Development Initiatives.


1. In your view, are victims being better served by international (ICC) or domestic (ICD) proceedings?

It is difficult to tell which court is serving Ugandans better, but in my opinion the ICC is proving to be more effective at the moment. Dominic Ongwen’s case has been fast-tracked and is now almost halfway through. That of Thomas Kwoyelo has dragged at the ICD to the extent that the charges have not yet even been confirmed. The ICC has also offered interim assistance through the Trust Fund for Victims, while the ICD is currently silent on reparations. So the ICC is perhaps serving Ugandans better in my opinion.

(Author’s note: the charges have since been confirmed)

2. Are there advantages offered specifically by domestic courts as opposed to international courts?

Frankly, I think there is no difference. One would expect the domestic courts to be closer to the people, but this has not proved to be the case. We are still seeing sessions by the ICD being held in Kampala, which makes it difficult for victims to attend. In addition, the ICD is not clear on reparations for victims of conflict. So I do not think victims are getting a better deal out of the ICD.

The only difference between the ICD and the ICC is that the former is domestic while the latter is International. But both courts have turned out to be alienated from the people they claim to be serving. The ICC is far away in The Hague, and the ICD is currently holding most of their sessions in Kampala. Whatever happened to the fancy notion of ‘bringing justice closer to the people’? However, like I mentioned, the ICC has clearly proven to be more effective than the ICD, especially in terms of offering a speedy trial, and clarifying the reparations that victims will receive.

3. What are the opinions of the victims, and of Ugandans more generally, towards the two proceedings?

The victims and the general public in Uganda continue to remain divided on whether criminal justice proceedings offers the best outcomes for justice and recovery. Many people continue to believe that the two ex-LRA commanders should be forgiven. Others believe they should be prosecuted. This diversion of opinions is something that will not go away both during and after the trials so it is better to let the courts do their work, as civil societies and governments explore other alternatives to promoting healing and post-conflict recovery.

4. Victims’ expectations not only differ but also change overtime. In Uganda, do you feel domestic proceedings may be better able to accommodate such changing expectations?

Not at all! I have interacted with thousands of victims over the years, and the one thing they are unanimous expressing is their distrust for domestic government institutions. The majority of victims I have spoken to do not trust government bodies and institutions due to their inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and high level of corruption. Uganda’s Judicial system is currently choked with a backlog of more than 150,000 cases. The ICD has failed to get Kwoyelo’s trial underway since 2008 when he was captured. So frankly you cannot blame victims for having a high level of distrust in domestic proceedings.

5. Concern has been raised over lack of resources at the ICD. What does this mean for prospects of justice for victims?

I would blame the lack of resources on the executive arm of government that has failed to adequately fund the judiciary. But on the other hand I would also fault the judiciary for failing to prioritize their needs using the resources at their disposal. A lot of money is spent on allowances for judges and court staff, international travels, and workshops, instead of prioritizing the fast-tracking of cases. In the long-term, the victims are the one who lose out… The judiciary, like many other government departments is underfunded. Witness protection is too expensive an option.

6. Do you anticipate reparations implementation will differ at the national/international levels?

Yes. The ICC has a reparations scheme that is clearly specified and included in trial proceedings. The ICD is does not have any reparations scheme in place, and the government is constantly whining about lack of funds. In terms of reparations, the ICC clearly offers better prospects.

7. How has the ICD been adjusting to direct victims’ participation, as this is unusual for common law proceedings?

It is premature to comment on this at this point given that the trial of Kwoyelo has not yet even started and the charges against him have not yet even been confirmed. This will become clearer when the trial starts in earnest. But at the moment I still do not see victims playing a very big role. I have seen many court sessions that have been held in the absence of victims

(Author’s note: the charges have since been confirmed)


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