Lira — Residents and leaders in northern Uganda have lauded the International Criminal Court (ICC) for enabling them to closely follow the prosecution of former Lord Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commander Dominic Ongwen.
Under its outreach programme, the ICC has been screening the court proceedings to residents in northern Uganda as well as sponsoring some leaders to travel to The Hague, Netherlands.
And now residents and leaders say the initiative is a way of bringing justice to them after losing their loved ones during the LRA insurgency.
"The video screening is so touching for those that lost relatives during the two-decade conflict. During the public screening, those touched by the testimonies always mourn as they recall what they went through during the war," says Ms Bito Okwir, who lost two children during the insurgency in 1998. Mr Charles Otiti, a war survivor in Oyam District, says many people are always looking forward to the court proceedings.
"When you are following the proceedings, the ICC courtroom is much organised. Unlike our courtrooms here, the sitting arrangement is good and the accused is not mistreated," he says.
Gulu Catholic Archbishop John Baptist Odama, who was part of the 20-member delegation that witnessed the opening of Ongwen's defence hearing in The Hague, says for the ICC to fulfill its mandate, its proceedings must be understood by the affected population.
"The ICC's outreach programme has been created to ensure that affected communities in the war affected situations, can easily follow the court proceedings and also follow the work of the court through the different phases of its activities." Archbishop Odama says.
Ever since the start of the trial of Ongwen more than a year ago, the public video screening has been taking place in 23 parishes in the four case locations of Pajule, Lukodi, Abok and Odek. The screening is also often done in Coorom Village, Ongwen's birthplace.
According to statistics provided by the ICC outreach office in Uganda, more than 15,000 people turned up at the viewing centres in the first phase of Ongwen's trial.
Ms Maria Mabinty Kamara, the ICC outreach officer for Kenya and Uganda, says the public screening is meant to address residents' concerns about the transparency of the whole trial.
"Through the face-to face meetings, radio programmes, screening of trial proceedings, interactions with CSOs, the media, local, traditional and religious leaders, the concerns and questions of the local population are addressed, their understanding of the proceedings is increased and their expectations are brought to a realistic level," she says.
ABOUT THE ICC OUTREACH PROGRAMME
The agreement. In July last year, the Danish embassy set aside Euros 200,000 (more than Shs820m) to create more awareness about the ongoing trial of Ongwen for one year. The agreement was signed between then ICC Registrar Herman Von Hebel and then Danish ambassador to Uganda Mogens Pedersen.
Objective. Mr Herman, in his remarks, explained that there was a need to instill confidence among the victims and also make them 'own' the trial by bringing the proceedings closer to them.
Ongwen's trial. On September 18, Ongwen, the alleged former commander of Lord's Resistance Army's powerful Sinia Brigade, commenced defending himself before the ICC over his role in the two-decade war.
He faces 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the Joseph Kony-led war.