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Acholi Leaders want Transitional Justice law enacted for War Victims

GULU, UGANDA | The Transitional Policy in the corridor of power

The International Criminal Court Appeals Chambers’ ruling on the 15th of December upholding the 25 years’ jail term for Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of the Lord Resistance Army has provoked Acholi leaders to demand for the Transitional Justice Draft bill that was first introduced in the 10th Parliament as private member policy request by then Gulu municipality member of parliament, Lyandro Komakech.\

The draft bill which came in the form of the first policy formulation endorsing support for war victims was passed by Cabinet in June 2019. It has since remained in a policy form without any operational law that many leaders in the region now say is time for the government to ensure the law is passed to support the reparation package for the war victims in Northern Uganda.

In the last general elections in 2021, Gulu had become a city the previous year and what was formerly a municipality was divided into two; that is Bardege-Layibi and Pece-Laroo divisions, hence, Komakech Lyandro contested for Bardege-Layibi division but he was beaten by Ojara Martin Mapenduzi who had been Gulu district chairperson for ten years since 2011, getting Lyandro out of the parliamentary seat.

“I didn’t make it to the 11th Parliament but I kept fighting from outside and it is time the current leadership in parliament from the region took it up. Secondly, when the policy was passed, government told me that they will own the process due to the heavy financial burden attached to the bill, now the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs is in a better place to speed up the process of the bill in its zero form,” Komakech Lyandro said.

About the bill
The Transitional Justice policy addresses accountability which takes the form of both formal court and traditional justice systems with an emphasis on truth-telling and forgiveness above punishment according to Lyandro. He added that the proposed law is also against blanket Amnesty but conditioned Amnesty after truth-telling and places livelihood for the reintegration of the formerly abducted and other war victims including reparation as the core.

“Look, the war victims are dying and children born in the LRA captivity are becoming adults and this law is not there, this ICC Appeal Chamber ruling means the ICC now will only do reparation in the case location areas and the other victims of war outside the case location will be left out, so passing this Transitional Justice law by the government will definitely cover all the other war victims not attached to the specific Dominic Ongwen Case”. The case location attached to Dominic Ongwen includes his personal involvement and ordering of the massacres of over 130 civilians at Lukodi in Gulu, Pajule in Pader, Odek in Omoro and Abok between 2002 and 2005.

Calls for the reintroduction of the Transitional Justice Bill in the 11th Parliament
Akol Anthony, Kilak North member of parliament in Amuru district who doubles as the current chairperson of the Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG), a forum that brings about Acholi national leaders like ministers, including members of parliament from the sub-region, told this reporter that it is high time the TJ law got reintroduced in the 11th Parliament to handle the repatriation of the war victims.

According to Akol, the TJ law matters to people from northern Uganda more because the biggest atrocities of the war were felt in Northern Uganda. “Unfortunately the transitional justice law has never been reintroduced in the 11th Parliament which started in May 2021 and with this ICC landmark ruling, I promise that next year in January the core focus of Acholi Parliamentary Group would definitely be on ensuring that Government reintroduces this bill and fund it for our people”. Akol said.

According to Akol, the ruling is another calling for all humanitarian organizations in Uganda and around the world to support the reparation of war victims, not forgetting the government’s contribution that can only be expedited through the Transitional Justice law.
Akol added that as Acholi leaders they would also apply to the ICC through the country where Dominic Ongwen will be serving his sentence so that they would visit him and build his courage at this time.

“During the trial, we applied but they didn’t grant us the opportunity to see him, probably they thought we would interfere with the process but now we need to see him and encourage him at this moment.” Nobert Mao, the Democratic President General and the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, when contacted said the discussions of the Transitional Justice law are on and the public will be informed in due course. He challenged this reporter to stay in contact for updates on the direction that would be taken on the policy.

The ICC welcomes complementary approaches by state parties in supporting war victims
Kamara Maria, the Uganda ICC outreach officer told this reporter during a telephone interview that the ICC has been following the transitional development in Uganda since transitional justice is a big component that looks at issues of impunity and long-term conflict being addressed in different ways far bigger than the scope and mandate of the ICC.

“Transitional Justice is a rich document, hence, any aspect that would broaden complementarity or deepen transitional justice idea is welcome because the ICC is mindful that its mandate cannot cover every component of the problem of the war in northern Uganda or Uganda at large. I believe everyone in the transitional justice field would be happy if the leaders focus on making the law a reality because that would really sort out some of the issues like the traditional justice system that the ICC have no jurisdiction over and in the interest of the victims, it would be fantastic to have it finally become law”. Despite all these, the case location people in Lukodi, Abok, Pajule and Odek who are the direct victims as to the Ongwen Dominic case are still waiting again for Trial Chamber 9 to give their specific reparation decision.

“We met the victims after the ruling and the question of the appeal that looked a deterrent to their reparation is now all handled because this is the final verdict, final sentencing and is now the judges from the trial chambers to come out with the reparation decision for these victims – this we cannot speculate. It is the judges to announce in the due course,” Kamara said.

James Onono Ojok is a freelance multi-media Investigative Journalist based in Gulu. He works as a Communication Officer at Gulu University. He has published a number of poetry works, including ‘Justice in the Hague’ about the civil war in northern Uganda.
This article was originally published here Acholi Leaders want Transitional Justice law enacted for War Victims

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