Govt, CSOs, clerics welcome Shs220 billion ICC award

Women in Lukodi Village, Gulu District celebrate after hearing on a radio that the International Criminal Court  in The Hague, Netherlands, found Dominic Ongwen guilty of war crimes.  At least 49,772 victims of atrocities committed by, or at the instigation of, former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander, Dominic Ongwen, will each receive the equivalent of Shs3.1 million in symbolic reparations from the court’s Trust Fund for Victims. photo/afp

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Ms Margaret Ajoj, the Technical Advisor, Transitional Justice at the Ministry of Justice, last evening described the ruling as “positive” both for the 49,772 war victims and the government

The government, civil society organisations, and religious leaders yesterday welcomed the ruling by the International Criminal Court (ICC), awarding over Shs222.3b in reparations to war victims of rebel commander Dominic Ongwen in northern Uganda.

Ms Margaret Ajoj, the Technical Advisor, Transitional Justice at the Ministry of Justice, last evening described the ruling as “positive” both for the 49,772 war victims and the government.

“It’s really a welcome ruling because it’s positive on behalf of the victims, especially that it’s us (government) that referred the matter to ICC,” Ms Ajoj said last evening.

Ms Ajoj said Uganda being a state party to the Rome Statute, should be in a position to make a contribution to the Trust Fund for the Victims since the ICC had appealed to states, organisations, and individuals to make contributions to the Fund on account that Ongwen is poor and unable to foot the reparations award.

“Not only does Uganda contribute to the Trust Fund for the Victims but each state party to the Rome Statute should so that the Ongwen war victims are paid,” she said.

Ms Ajol added that since the reparations award will cover only those affected by the Ongwen atrocities, and not all the Joseph Kony war victims scattered all over the northern region and parts of eastern Uganda, the government is coming up with a Transitional Policy that will cater to those not covered under this particular ICC award.

“For others whose numbers we don’t know, should be catered for in our national processes and be supported since the Ongwen award is international. The National Transitional Justice Policy will cater to that,” Ms Ajol said.

Speaking on behalf of the civil society, Ms Sarah Kasande, the head of office of the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) Uganda, welcomed the ruling last evening.

She said it was time the war victims started the journey of healing and moving on with life having received acknowledgment for the crimes that they endured for two decades.

“It is a historic award and it is the highest amount that the court has awarded in reparations. We now have to consider the staggering 49,772 victims, who are also just a fraction in the universe of victims of the Northern Ugandan armed conflict,” Ms Kasande said in a telephone interview.

“I welcome this decision but the biggest challenge now is how to mobilise resources for this 52 million Euros award. The Trust Fund for Victims that is supposed to implement this order relies on donations from ICC member states, foundations, corporations, and organisations. So, it is going to embark on a robust fundraising process that it can rely on to get these resources,” she said.

Ms Kasande said, “It is a very important step in acknowledging the suffering of victims and beginning an important process of repairing their harm. Notably, the court has directed that each of the 49,772 victims will get 750 Euros as a symbolic monetary payment and it is a reasonable amount.”

Referring to the Katanga case in the DR Congo, Ms Kasande said the court awarded each of the war victims a lower amount of 250 Euros and yet in the Onwgen case, each victim was awarded Euros 750. She said the judges were sensitive to the experiences of the victims and their high expectations.

Mr Anthony Akol, the chairman of Acholi Parliamentary Group, said there was need to conduct a deeper analysis of the atrocities that the Kony war had on the people of northern Uganda if adequate compensation can be awarded.

Similarly, retired Northern Uganda Diocese bishop, Nelson Onono Onweng, welcomed the ruling. “The order and ruling are good, at least justice has been delivered. But the painful thing is that the money is not there right now and yet the war victims are desperate for it. And I emphasise that those payments are symbolic because one cannot estimate paying for a soul lost.”

Ms Betty Lalam, the proprietor of Gulu War Affected Training Centre, described the ruling as “great news” to the victims but she was pessimistic about whether the would-be beneficiaries have the financial literacy to effectively use the award money.

Compiled by Anthony Wesaka, Owiny Jolly Tobbias, Priscilla Maloba & Sylivia Katushabe.