18 January 2017

Uganda: Internet Problems Stall Ongwen Trial Broadcast

Photo: The Independent
Lord's Resistance Army’s Dominic Ongwen on trial at ICC.

Gulu — Internet disruptions and a failure to translate court proceedings into Luo, the language most spoken in northern Uganda, the epicentre of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency, on Monday left residents who gathered to follow the trial of former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen disappointed.

The trial of Ongwen, who faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, resumed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, this week following more than a month adjournment.

The ICC in an initiative to bring the trial closer to the communities most affected by the nearly two-decade LRA rebellion, set up various viewing centres in northern Uganda to enable as many residents as possible to follow the court proceedings in real time over the next two weeks.

At Gulu Secondary School in Gulu Municipality, one of the viewing centres in the district, locals who attended the live screening were upset by Internet disruptions, power outage and the use of English language without translation to vernacular.

Ms Florence Auma, a viewer who travelled from Iriaga Parish in Bardege Division to watch the proceeding, said despite the power and Internet problems, she expected the proceeding to be aired in Acholi, because most of the victims interested in the proceedings do not understand English well.

She added that the proceeding should have been aired in the local language because majority of the victims are uneducated or semi-literate, who do not understand legal jargons.

"On the day of the opening trial, my neighbour said she saw a picture of someone she knew. Today, I came expecting that may be I would see a picture of my brother, among the pictures that the court would be showing as evidence. Since he was abducted from Lacekocot in Pader District in 2000, we have not heard of him," Ms Auma said.

Auma said she did not see what she had expected.

"I only stopped in Primary Five class and only understand a few English words. The accent of the court officials also makes me miss many words," she said.

Mr Jimmy Otim, the ICC outreach officer in Uganda, said the court was set to sit in court room I, which has the facilities for translation and transmission in Acholi, but there was last-minute change and trial was shifted to court room III. The opening trial proceedings last month were conducted in Trial Chamber IV.

He, however, pledged that the ICC outreach office will make recordings of Monday's trial and broadcast it later to the community.

"We record the proceeding and re-broadcast in the community and various radio stations in the local language so that those who do not understand English can get the message," Mr Otim said.

The opening trial focused on analysis by expert witness, Prof Tim Allen, who gave an account of the political history of Uganda, the history of the Alice Lakwena-led Holy Spirit Movement, a precursor to the LRA.

The trial of Ongwen commenced at The Hague on the December 6, 2016 where he denied war crimes and crimes against humanity allegations slapped on him.

Ongwen is the first former child soldier to face trial at The Hague based court, and the first defendant to be both alleged perpetrator and victim of the same crimes.

His trial is one of the most historic in the ICC's 14-year history, and raises difficult questions of responsibility and justice, particularly that the suspected is a former abductee.

Mr Ongwen is the only one of five LRA commanders that the ICC indicted in 2005 to be prosecuted, with three dead and their leader Joseph Kony at large.

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