Today, we present part three of our series Uganda, about the thousands of children who had been abducted and held captive by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Throughout the series, we follow the lives of two children over the course of thirty years, from the mid-80s until today; from their abductions as children in part one, their escapes in part two, and part three, their struggle to return to their families and communities and to find some kind of justice for what they, and the thousands of other children, endured. Our series is reported by Gladys Oroma, in Gulu, Uganda. Now, part three – Justice.
BY 2006, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF CHILDREN THAT HAD BEEN ABDUCTED AND HELD CAPTIVE BY THE LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY HAD EITHER ESCAPED OR WERE CAPTURED BY UGANDAN GOVERNMENT SOLDIERS. MANY WERE KILLED IN AN ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE OR IN BATTLE WITH GOVERNMENT FORCES. THOSE WHO SURVIVED, YOUNG WOMEN WHO WERE ABDUCTED AS GIRLS AND HAD CHILDREN FROM FORCED MARRIAGES IN CAPTIVITY. AND YOUNG MEN WHO WERE ABDUCTED AS BOYS AND HAD BEEN FORCED TO FIGHT IN THE LRA. THEY WERE TRYING TO FIND THEIR WAY BACK HOME.
AKELLO IMMACULATE IS A SENIOR PSYCHIATRIC NURSE AT THE GULU REGIONAL HOSPITAL MENTAL HEALTH UNIT. SHE WORKED CLOSELY WITH PEOPLE ABDUCTED BY THE LRA.
AKELLO IMMACULATE: When things you don’t expect to see at your age, things you never thought you would hear, and you have done it, you it becomes a problem in development mentally and psychologically.
AKELLO SAYS SHE WITNESSED THE IMPACT OF THE LRA’S VIOLENCE ON CHILDREN WHO ARE NOW ADULTS. AFTER SPENDING WEEKS OR MONTHS IN ONE OF THE FOUR REHABILITATION CENTERS IN NORTHERN UGANDA FOR YOUNG PEOPLE RETURNING FROM CAPTIVITY IN THE LRA, THE RETURNEES AND THEIR YOUNG CHILDREN WERE HANDED OVER TO THEIR PARENTS OR RELATIVES WHO SURVIVED THE CONFLICT. THEY WERE TO BEGIN LIFE ANEW BACK IN THEIR VILLAGES AND COMMUNITIES — PLACES WHERE THEY HAD BEEN ABDUCTED FROM SO MANY YEARS BEFORE. AND IN SOME CASES, THE SAME COMMUNITIES WHERE THE LRA HAD FORCED THEM TO KILL RELATIVES OR PEOPLE THEY KNEW.
BEATRICE OCWEE: Much as I would rarely interact with people in the community or quarrel with any one, in the community I started experiencing a difficult life. I would not insult or quarrel with anyone or move anywhere.
BEATRICE WAS ABDUCTED FROM HER UNCLE’S HOME WHEN SHE WAS 15. BY THE TIME SHE FINALLY ESCAPED FROM THE LRA, SHE WAS 22 YEARS OLD WITH TWO CHILDREN BORN FROM HER FORCED MARRIAGE TO A SENIOR LRA COMMANDER.
BEATRICE OCWEE: People in the neighborhood started abusing my children whenever they would go to play with their children, that the children of Kony have evil spirits.
PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY WERE UNSETTLED ABOUT THE TIME SHE SPENT AS A CAPTIVE WIFE OF THE LRA COMMANDER AND COULD NOT ACCEPT HER CHILDREN WHO WERE BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK IN THE LRA. BEATRICE SAYS, THAT MADE LIVING BACK IN HER FAMILY HOME WITH HER MOTHER, ESPECIALLY DIFFICULT FOR HER CHILDREN.
BEATRICE OCWEE: They used to beat my children and their mothers would tell them not to play with my children because their mother gave birth to them while in captivity. The children would come back home crying and I would also join and begin crying.
WHAT MADE COMING HOME TO HER CLOSELY KNIT EXTENDED FAMILY AND COMMUNITY ESPECIALLY PAINFUL, BEATRICE SAYS, WAS PEOPLE SHE HAD KNOWN AS A CHILD WOULD NOT TALK DIRECTLY TO HER — ABOUT HER TIME IN LRA CAPTIVITY, OR ABOUT THE TWO CHILDREN SHE GAVE BIRTH TO.
BEATRICE OCWEE: They would not directly confront or stigmatize me but they would begin stigmatizing after I have left.
PEOPLE BEATRICE SAYS SHE KNEW AS A CHILD ACCUSED HER AND HER CHILDREN OF BEING DEMON POSSESSED.
BEATRICE OCWEE: My mother was called Helen. They would say, ‘Have you seen the daughter of Helen? She returned from captivity. People like her have evil spirit. If you are not careful she will one day cut you with a machete. Even her children are useless. They possess the same evil spirits and even the kids might pick something and hit you with.’
WHEN BEATRICE FIRST RETURNED HOME, TO LIVE WITH HER MOTHER, THE REHABILITATION CENTER GAVE HER PROVISIONS TO HELP HER CARE FOR HERSELF AND HER CHILDREN. THEN SHE RAN OUT OF MONEY AND FOOD. WITH NO JOB SKILLS AND NO MONEY, BEATRICE BEGAN DOING PETTY WORK TO EARN A LIVING.
BEATRICE OCWEE: When I stayed there, I realized that if I continue sitting then I will not be able to get food for my children, or buy soap. I started buying sugarcane and I would bring to town to sell. I would use the money to buy food and go back home.
IT WAS HER DETERMINATION TO PROVIDE THE BASIC NEEDS FOR HER FAMILY AND HER CHILDREN, THAT IMPROVED HER RELATIONSHIP WITH HER MOTHER AND GAINED HER SOME ACCEPTANCE IN THE FAMILY.
BEATRICE OCWEE: She had already told me that she could not keep children whose clan is not known. I could not take these children anywhere since I did not know the home of their father. When I started doing petty trade, my mother began living with me well, and my friends advised me that if I want to enjoy easy life, I should live alone in my home.
BUT EVENTUALLY, EVEN EARNING MONEY FROM PETTY WORK AND TAKING CARE OF HER FAMILY, WASN’T ENOUGH TO STOP THE COMMUNITY FROM STIGMATIZING BEATRICE AND HER CHILDREN.
BEATRICE OCWEE: It reached a point when the local councillor of the area saw that the stigmatisation was getting out of hand.
A LOCAL COUNCILLOR IN BEATRICE’S VILLAGE WAS FORCED TO HOLD A MEETING.
BEATRICE OCWEE: He called a meeting with the community and talked to them. I was not around. I had come to town to sell sugarcane.
THE COUNCILLOR PROMISED TO TAKE LEGAL ACTION AGAINST ANYONE CONDEMNING BEATRICE OR HER CHILDREN.
BEATRICE OCWEE: He told them I did not wish to join the rebels and that the rebels came and that the rebels came and abducted me from home. And he said if it happened to the people in the community, how would they feel?
THE LOCAL COUNCILLOR THEN SPOKE TO BEATRICE’S MOTHER.
BEATRICE OCWEE: He also warned my mother. He said he had heard that she also insults me. That means ‘If you the mother insult her that means you the mother are the first person to brand her. That is why the community is branding her.’ When the local councillor warned them, the community changed their attitude towards me and stopped stigmatizing me.
BUT JUST FIVE MONTHS AFTER SHE RETURNED HOME, BEATRICE SAYS HER MOTHER ASKED HER TO LEAVE.
BEATRICE OCWEE: When my mother saw that I was causing her pain every time she would see me crying, she asked me to leave her home and rent somewhere else because I was causing for her a lot of problems. I told her, there was no problem, I would look for a house to rent once I got some money. I told her what ever happened to me was not my wish. When I told her, she started crying. She was heartbroken then she told me not leave or go anywhere, and advised me not to allow my children to be crying. And that I should stop crying.
BEATRICE SAYS INSULTS BY HER MOTHER OBLIGATED HER TO LEAVE HER MOTHER AND THE VILLAGE SHE WAS BORN AND RAISED IN, TO BEGIN LIFE AFRESH. LIKE MANY WOMEN RETURNING FROM LRA CAPTIVITY WITH CHILDREN, BEATRICE BEGAN TO LOOK FOR A WAY TO MOVE TO A MORE URBAN PLACE, WHERE NO ONE KNEW HER HISTORY WITH THE LRA. A PLACE WHERE SHE AND HER CHILDREN COULD LIVE IN PEACE AND WHERE SHE COULD MAKE A LIVING.
BEATRICE OCWEE: When I saved some little money, I started looking for a house to rent. I bought two saucepans to begin my life with.
BEATRICE MOVED WITH HER CHILDREN TO HER NEW HOME IN GULU TOWN, A SMALL CITY FIVE MILES FROM HER VILLAGE.
BEATRICE OCWEE: I told my mother that I was going to live in town since the rebels are still there and they may come and if they find me they will kill me and she will not be able to care for my children. She told me ‘My child, if those are your thoughts then it is fine. You can leave.’ And that is how I left my mother to begin my life alone. She did not realize that I left her home in agony.
TODAY, BEATRICE SAYS LIVING IN THE SUBURBS OF GULU TOWN WHERE PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT HER PAST HISTORY OF ABDUCTION AND CAPTIVITY WITH THE LRA, IS A RELIEF.
BEATRICE OCWEE: If I did not reveal that I was formerly abducted, nobody would know. If I did not tell that these children were born from captivity nobody would know. I used to continue with my small business. I used to leave my children to play with their playmates. I would always ask my neighbor to check the food on fire, and I would return and find that the food was ready.
SAMUEL AKENA: I was not treated well. First, all the eight bars of soap given to me from World Vision were removed and I remained with only one.
SAMUEL AKENA WAS ABDUCTED AT THE AGE OF 11 AND WAS HELD CAPTIVE BY THE LRA FOR FOUR YEARS. AT THE AGE OF 15 HE ESCAPED FROM THE LRA. AFTER SPENDING ONE WEEK AT A REHABILITATION CENTER, AKENA WAS GIVEN A FEW BASIC NEED ITEMS AND HE RETURNED TO HIS VILLAGE TO LIVE WITH HIS PARENTS AND STEP SIBLINGS.
SAMUEL AKENA: I saw a difference between me and my siblings. At times my step-mother and siblings would tell me to do something and if I refuse then they would say that it is the evil spirit I came with from the bush disturbing me. Once they tell me like that, I keep quiet because I know have nothing disturbing me.
WHEN SAMUEL RETURNED HOME TO LIVE WITH HIS PARENTS, THEY PERFORMED A CLEANSING CEREMONY — A TRADITIONAL CEREMONY BY THE ACHOLI PEOPLE OF NORTHERN UGANDA TO WELCOME A LONG LOST RELATIVE OR FOR ONE WHO WAS BELIEVED TO HAVE DIED. AS PART OF THE CEREMONY, SAMUEL WAS REQUIRED TO STEP ON A RAW EGG BEFORE ENTERING HIS HOMESTEAD TO CHASE AWAY ANY BAD OMENS.
SAMUEL AKENA: If I don’t tell you that I was abducted you will not know because most people who returned were violent and would threaten to kill when they quarrel. But me, I did not do that. It is why my neighbors were not treating me badly. They thought I was living with my mother. Many people knew the day I returned because I stepped on an egg to cleanse.
RETURNING MEN AND WOMEN ALSO HAD THE OPTIONS OF COMPLETING THEIR EDUCATION OR LEARNING VOCATIONAL SKILLS. THOUGH THEY RECEIVED LIFE SKILLS TRAINING LIKE BRICKLAYING, TAILORING AND CARPENTRY, MANY ARE CHALLENGED TO APPLY THE SKILLS THEY HAVE LEARNED DUE TO ILL HEALTH OR INJURIES SUSTAINED IN CAPTIVITY. THE MAJORITY OF RETURNING WOMEN WERE TRAINED AS TAILORS. BUT IN A MARKET NOW SATURATED WITH WOMEN AND MEN SKILLED IN TAILORING AND IN AN AREA OF THE COUNTRY WHERE MOST PEOPLE BUY SECOND HAND CLOTHES, THERE ISN’T A MARKET TO UTILIZE THEIR SKILLS.
OKELLO PHOEBE IS A RETIRED TEACHER AND PARENT OF A FORMERLY ABDUCTED GIRL. SHE IS ALSO ONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF THE CONCERNED PARENTS ASSOCIATION.
OKELLO PHOEBE: For the men it is easy because for the men when they came they were trained how to repair bicycles and some were even taken back to school and you know what women want is money. If a man can support you what next?
MONEY IS A CONCERN FOR MANY RETURNEES. AS PART OF THE AMNESTY OFFERED TO RETURNEES WILLING TO ADMIT THEY HAD FOUGHT FOR THE LRA AND WERE SORRY FOR THEIR PARTICIPATION, SOME RECEIVED A PACKAGE, WHICH INCLUDED THE EQUIVALENT OF APPROXIMATELY $150 US DOLLARS IN CASH AND GOODS. UNLIKE SAMUEL WHO RETURNED WITHOUT A CHILD, YOUNG WOMEN LIKE BEATRICE WHO WERE SEXUALLY VIOLATED IN CAPTIVITY AND WHO RETURNED WITH CHILDREN FATHERED BY LRA COMMANDERS, ARE A CONSTANT REMINDER TO THEIR COMMUNITY OF LRA VIOLENCE.
BEFORE CHILDREN WERE ABDUCTED, STRONG CULTURAL TRADITIONS GUIDED MARRIAGES AND CHILDRENS’ TIES TO THE COMMUNITY. WHEN WOMEN RETURNED FROM CAPTIVITY WITH CHILDREN FROM FORCED MARRIAGES WITH LRA THERE WERE PROBLEMS. THE CHILDREN BORN IN LRA CAPTIVITY HAD NO HISTORY IN THE COMMUNITY AND IN MOST CASES COULD NOT TRACE THE FAMILY OF THEIR LRA FATHERS. BUT MANY OF THE CHILDREN WHO RETURNED FROM CAPTIVITY AS YOUNG ADULTS, AND THEIR CHILDREN BORN IN CAPTIVITY, FACED MORE THAN CONDEMNATION AND ISOLATION. RETURNEES AND THEIR CHILDREN OFTEN HAVE TO ENGAGE IN WRANGLES AND COMPETITION WITH RELATIVES AND SIBLINGS OVER ACCESS TO FAMILY FARMLAND AND PROPERTY.
EPODE FLORENCE: After the war came to an end there were a number of challenges.
EPODE FLORENCE IS A SENIOR PROGRAMS OFFICER FIDA UGANDA, AN ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN LAWYERS IN UGANDA. FOR WOMEN RETURNING FROM CAPTIVITY WITH A CHILD BORN TO AN LRA COMMANDER IS AN EXTREME CHALLENGE. FOR A FUTURE HUSBAND TO TAKE ON ANOTHER MAN’S CHILD BORN IN LRA CAPTIVITY CREATES INSECURITY AND COMPETITION AMONG HIS OWN MALE CHILDREN.
FLORENCE EPODE: So the women who came back are being discriminated against the children they came with from the north. Some of them are being chased away from the land.
WITHIN NORTHERN UGANDA’S TRADITIONAL PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY, FOR MANY, THE ACT OF SUFFERING SEXUAL VIOLENCE MAKES A WOMAN LIKE BEATRICE APPEAR UNCLEAN IN THE EYES OF THEIR OWN COMMUNITY AND THUS, ARE NOT REGARDED AS SUITABLE MARRIAGE PARTNERS. THEY ARE ALSO VIEWED AS POSSESSED WITH EVIL SPIRITS WHILE THEY WERE IN LRA CAPTIVITY, WHICH THEY BELIEVE WILL POLLUTE THEIR POTENTIAL MARITAL LINEAGE. AND THE CHILDREN BORN FROM FORCED MARRIAGES TO LRA COMMANDERS MADE IT DIFFICULT FOR WOMEN LIKE BEATRICE TO FIND NEW MARRIAGE PARTNERS.
OKELLO PHOEBE: It is because of the children they came with. That is why they cannot marry.
ISOLATED AND CONDEMNED, AND WITHOUT MONEY TO CARE FOR THE CHILDREN THEY GAVE BIRTH TO IN CAPTIVITY, SOME RETURNING WOMEN REMAINED WITH THE LRA COMMANDERS THEY WERE FORCED TO MARRY IN CAPTIVITY. BUT NOT ALL.
FRED NGOMOKWER IS HEAD OF THE REFUGEE LAW PROJECT OFFICE IN GULU.
FRED NGOMOKWER: For those who came together, because of what happened to them while in captivity, they feel they cannot stay in the same house and they have left their husbands.
IN ADDITION, THE UGANDAN MILITARY ABSORBED SOME OF THE LRA’S HIGHEST RANKING COMMANDERS AND SOLDIERS INTO THEIR RANKS — OFFERING THEM SALARIES AND PENSIONS AS PART OF THE AMNESTY PACKAGE. BUT, NGOMOKWER SAYS, STILL MANY FORMER CAPTIVE WIVES OPTED OUT OF CONTINUING IN A FORCED MARRIAGE.
FRED NGOMOKWER: The young girls got back home and refused to follow them to their luxurious life and even refused their money. They have decided to live a simple but quite difficult to handle life. And they taking care of the children. The relationship between men and women who returned from captivity is not so nice.
BUT FOR SOME WHO HAD BEEN ABDUCTED, SHARED TIME IN THE BUSH ALSO BROUGHT A FEW RETURNING WOMEN AND MEN TOGETHER. NGOMOKWER SAYS SOME RETURNEES WHO WERE NOT MARRIED IN CAPTIVITY, ARE MARRIED, TODAY.
FRED NGOMOKWER: Few of them built a good relationship while in the bush have decided to go back and they have formed good families. They’re living happily because of the life that can be traced way back while in the bush. Others might have been saved by these people or that very person who is now the husband. Others might have been kept like more of a sister to him and at some point, they developed that intimacy and got together.
OKELLO SAYS THEY BEGAN WORKING DIRECTLY WITH FAMILY MEMBERS AND PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY TO TAKE MORE CARE FOR THE RETURNEES.
OKELLO PHOEBE: So we were teaching the parents. We were in fact organizing workshops where we would really train the parents to be our ambassador to the community. That they should tell the community that those children have to be handled with care.
IT HAS NOW BEEN NEARLY 25 YEARS SINCE JOSEPH KONY AND LRA REBELS BEGAN KILLING AND ABDUCTING PEOPLE AND CHILDREN FROM NORTHERN UGANDA. FOR ALL THE VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULTS, AND MURDERS COMMITTED AGAINST TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE BY LRA COMBATANTS, TODAY ONLY TWO FORMER LRA COMMANDERS OF AN ESTIMATED 79 ARE IN COURT AND CHARGED FOR THEIR CRIMES. MANY FORMER COMMANDERS HAVE DIED. SOME AT THE DIRECTION OF THE LRA LEADER, JOSEPH KONY.
ONE OF THOSE ON TRIAL IS THOMAS KWOYELO, ONE OF THE LRA’S MID-LEVEL COMMANDERS. CAPTURED IN 2009, HIS CASE IS BEFORE THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMES DIVISION OF UGANDA’S HIGH COURT IN GULU IN NORTHERN UGANDA. THE HIGH COURT WAS CREATED IN 2008, MORE THAN A DECADE INTO THE CRISIS, TO TRY PEOPLE CHARGED WITH INTERNATIONAL WAR CRIMES AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY, TERRORISM, HUMAN TRAFFICKING, GENOCIDE AND PIRACY. KWOYELO IS CHARGED WITH COMMITTING A LIST OF CRIMES SO LONG, IT REPORTEDLY TOOK TWO HOURS TO READ THE LIST IN COURT.
BUT KWOYELO’S TRIAL IN UGANDAN COURT IS CONTROVERSIAL. SOME IN UGANDA BELIEVE KWOYELO, WHO WAS ABDUCTED IN 1996 BY LRA REBELS AT THE AGE OF 10 AND FORCED TO FIGHT AS AN LRA COMBATANT, QUALIFIES FOR AMNESTY. KWOYELO HAS APPLIED TO UGANDA’S AMNESTY COMMISSION FOR THE SAME AMNESTY GRANTED TO EVEN SENIOR LRA COMMANDERS. BUT TODAY, MORE THAN 8 YEARS SINCE HIS TRIAL BEGAN, KWOYELO REMAINS IN CUSTODY AND ON TRIAL IN UGANDA’S INTERNATIONAL COURT.
THE SECOND LRA COMMANDER FACING TRIAL IS DOMINIC ONGWEN, THE REPORTED HEAD OF ONE OF THE REBELS FOUR BRIGADES AND IN CHARGE OF MILITARY OPERATIONS. ONGWEN FLED FROM THE LRA IN 2014 AND WAS HANDED OVER TO THE US ARMY BEFORE HE WAS TRANSFERRED FIRST TO THE UGANDAN MILITARY AND FINALLY TO THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT IN THE HAGUE WHERE HE IS ON TRIAL FOR COMMITTING WAR CRIMES AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.
BBC REPORTER: He has been on the run for almost a decade and early today morning Dominic Ongwen was taxied towards justice. After being captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army as a child, Dominic Ongwen quickly rose through the rebel ranks. He’s accused of murdering, torturing, and enslaving …
ONGWEN IS BEING TRIED AT THE ICC BECAUSE, UNLIKE THE UNITED STATES, UGANDA IS ONE OF 120 NATION STATES TO ADOPT THE STATUES OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT WHICH WAS ESTABLISHED TO PROSECUTE PERPETRATORS OF THE MOST SERIOUS CRIMES COMMITTED IN MEMBER TERRITORIES OR BY THEIR NATIONALS. THE ICC IS NOT SEEN AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR A NATIONAL COURT, BUT CAN INTERVENE WHEN A MEMBER STATE IS UNABLE OR UNWILLING TO CARRY OUT AN INVESTIGATION OR PROSECUTE PERPETRATORS OF INTERNATIONAL WAR CRIMES OR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.
IN DECEMBER 2003, MORE THAN A DECADE AFTER THE LRA BEGAN THE KILLINGS AND ABDUCTIONS, UGANDA’S PRESIDENT, MUSEVENI REFERRED THE CRISIS OF THE LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY TO THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT FOR INVESTIGATION AND PROSECUTION. THE ICC BEGAN ITS INVESTIGATIONS AND IN 2005, THE ICC ISSUED ARREST WARRANTS FOR FIVE OF THE LRA’S TOP COMMANDERS.
OF THE FIVE, THREE COMMANDERS, OKOT ODIAMBO, RASKA LUKWIYA AND OTTI VINCENT, HAVE ALL DIED. YOU MAY REMEMBER OKOT ODIAMBO THE LRA COMMANDER WHO RAPED BEATRICE AND FORCED HER TO BECOME ONE OF HIS CAPTIVE WIVES. JOSEPH KONY, THE LEADER OF THE LRA IS STILL AT LARGE AND LEADING A SMALL NUMBER OF REBEL SOLDIERS IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC. THAT LEAVES JUST DOMINIC ONGWEN TO FACE TRIAL IN THE HAGUE. IN 2016, THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT BEGAN TRIAL ON DOMINIC ONGWEN BEGAN.
COURT CLERK: The International Criminal Court is now in session…
ONGWEN IS FACING 70 COUNTS OF WAR CRIMES AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY AS WELL AS SEXUAL AND GENDER BASED VIOLENCE COMMITTED EITHER DIRECTLY BY HIM OR UNDER HIS COMMAND IN THE LRA.
BEINI YE: Originally the prosecutor at the ICC charged Dominic Ongwen with a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder, pillaging and enslavement.
BEINI YE IS THE HEAD OF POST CONFLICT JUSTICE PROGRAM WITH THE UK, CHARITY REDRESS.
BEINI YE: At that time the prosecutor had not included any sexual violence crimes in the indictment. But later on, after the arrest of Dominic Ongwen and upon pressure by civil society organizations, these charges were amended and extended to include sexual violence charges such as rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage.
DOMINIC’S TRIAL AT THE ICC HAS DRAWN MIXED FEELING FROM HIS VICTIMS AND FROM PEOPLE IN THE REGION WHERE HE COMMITTED THE ATROCITIES. LIKE MANY OF HIS VICTIMS, DOMINIC ONGWEN WAS CAPTURED AT THE AGE OF 10 WHILE HE WAS ON HIS WAY TO SCHOOL. AFTER HE WAS TAKEN TO THE LRA’S MILITARY BASE, HE WAS FORCED TO WITNESS VIOLENCE AND COMMIT CRIMES BY THE LRA LEADER JOSEPH KONY. BEINI YE SAYS THAT THIS MAKES THE ICC’S PROSECUTION OF ONGWEN DIFFICULT.
BEINI YE: Dominic Ongwen was abducted himself as a child which makes the prosecution a bit tricky from the point of view of Ugandans from the same region. However, he can be prosecuted for the crimes that he committed after he turned 18 because that is the age when people can be held criminally liable for their acts, no matter what had happened to them in their childhood. Well the fact that he was abducted as a child could play a significant role in his sentencing, so in deciding how many years or how severe his punishment will be.
STILL, MANY IN UGANDA AND IN THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY AREN’T SATISFIED THAT ENOUGH IS BEING DONE TO SEEK JUSTICE FOR THE DECADES OF VIOLENCE. THEY BELIEVE UGANDAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND SOLDIERS WITH THE UGANDA PEOPLE’S DEFENSE FORCES SHOULD ALSO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE BY LAW FOR FAILING TO PROTECT THE PEOPLE OF NORTHERN UGANDA FROM THE LRA. UGANDAN SOLDIERS HAVE ALSO BEEN ACCUSED OF COMMITTING SEXUAL ASSAULTS AND MURDERS DURING THE CONFLICT WITH THE LRA. NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS HAVE CALLED ON THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT IN THE HAGUE TO INVESTIGATE CHARGES AGAINST THE UGANDAN MILITARY.
BEATRICE OCWEE: I think government should also be tried, it is this same government which forced us into the difficult life we are in.
BEATRICE OCWEE AND OTHER VICTIMS OF LRA VIOLENCE SAY THE UGANDAN GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR COMMITTING CRIMINAL ACTS AND FOR FAILING TO PROTECT UGANDAN CITIZENS.
BEATRICE OCWEE: We are suffering because of them. As a government you know rebels are fighting and the rebels come and abduct your people when you are sleeping nearby.
IT’S TIME, BEATRICE SAYS, THE UGANDAN GOVERNMENT COMPENSATED HER AND THE OTHER RETURNEES FOR THE YEARS THEY SPENT IN CAPTIVITY.
BEATRICE OCWEE: They knew all that was happening to the people. This government should be tried and made to compensate people.
BEINI YE: I have seen a trend that shows that criminal prosecution of the perpetrators actually tends to rank lower than the sense of having some form of life-changing benefits, and perceive that as a form of justice rather than having prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators.
AS HEAD OF THE POST CONFLICT JUSTICE PROGRAM WITH THE UK, CHARITY REDRESS, BEINI YE SAYS FOR MANY VICTIMS, RECEIVING BENEFITS THAT COULD CHANGE THEIR LIVES IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF COMMANDERS IN THE LRA.
BEINI YE: Reparation in the sense of receiving something with which you can restore your life and rebuild your life after the atrocities that you suffered is often seen as more important than prosecution, especially where the victim’s situation is still dire and victims are still living in extreme poverty and still struggling with the psychological and physical consequences of the violence.
MANY OF THE FORMERLY ABDUCTED CHILDREN NOW ADULTS ARE TRYING TO REBUILD THEIR LIVES. SOME CONTINUED THEIR EDUCATION, HAVE GRADUATED AND ARE WORKING OR TRYING TO FIND WORK. OTHERS EARN A LIVING IN PETTY TRADE OR FARMING. MANY RETURNEES, ESPECIALLY WOMEN, CONTINUE TO FIGHT AGAINST THE STIGMA ATTACHED TO WOMEN WHO ENDURED FORCED MARRIAGES IN LRA CAPTIVITY. WHILE SOME ARE MARRIED TO FORMER RETURNEES, OTHERS FACE THE LONG-TERM PROBLEM OF FINDING A MARRIAGE PARTNER. THIS IS A CRITICAL SOCIAL PROBLEM FOR A SOCIETY WHERE MARRIAGE EARNS A PERSON RESPECT AND ACCESS TO KEY RESOURCES SUCH AS LAND, ECONOMIC SECURITY AND PROTECTION. MANY FORMER CAPTIVE WIVES HAVE LEFT THE COMMUNITIES WHERE THEY GREW UP AND HAVE RELOCATED TO AREAS WHERE NO ONE KNOWS THEIR STORIES.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED FROM THE LRA’S VIOLENCE AND THE LONG-TERM IMPACTS ON THE PEOPLE WHO YEARS AGO WERE ABDUCTED AND HELD CAPTIVE?
BEINI YE: I think firstly the role of the international community in responding to a crisis is prevention.
AND TO PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING AGAIN, BEINI YE SAYS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD BE ON ALERT TO THE EARLY SIGNS OF SUCH A CONFLICT.
BEINI YE: In many countries and in many regions there are early warning signs of escalation of violence, of potential ethnic cleansing, of potential ethnic clashes, or extreme oppression by government. So I think at the very onset the international community has to take these kinds of warnings seriously and intervene in the form of mediation, in the form of sanctions, already at that point to avert this kind of violence from breaking out.
AND IN A CASE OF VIOLENCE THAT IS ALREADY OCCURRING, BEINI YE CHARGES THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO USE THEIR INFLUENCE TO PRESSURE BOTH SIDES OF A CONFLICT TO END THE VIOLENCE.
BEINI YE: When already violence is ongoing I definitely think an immediate reaction in the form of bilateral pressure on both sides of the conflict including setting up monitoring from the very early onset of the situation to make sure that violence is documented.
BACK IN NORTHERN UGANDA, VICTIMS OF THE LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY STRUGGLE TO RECOVER FROM THE IMPACT OF TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF WAR. ALTHOUGH THE LRA REBELS LEFT NORTHERN UGANDA MORE THAN A DECADE AGO, THEY NO LONGER POSE A DIRECT THREAT TO THE COMMUNITIES WHERE BEATRICE OCWEE AND AKENA SAMUEL LIVE. LRA REBELS CONTINUE TO TERRIFY PEOPLE THROUGHOUT THE REGION, LOOTING, ABDUCTING AND KILLING IN NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES SUCH AS THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC AND THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO.
STILL THERE IS FEAR IN NORTHERN UGANDA, THAT UNTIL THE UNDERLYING CAUSES OF THE CONFLICT HAVE BEEN ADDRESSED, THE EXTREME POVERTY, UNEMPLOYMENT, AND THE FAILURE OF THE VICTIMS TO REALIZE COMPENSATION AND JUSTICE, THE LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY OR SOME OTHER REBELLION COULD HAPPEN AGAIN. AMONG THE ACHOLI PEOPLE, ONE OF SEVERAL INDIGENOUS TRIBES IN NORTHERN UGANDA THAT SUFFERED THE MOST DURING THE CRISIS IN UGANDA, THERE IS A LOCAL JUSTICE SYSTEM KNOWN AS MATO OPUT. IT ALLOWS COMPENSATION BETWEEN THE PERPETRATORS AND VICTIMS.
ISAAC OKWIR: The formal justice mechanism is kind of retributive in nature while local justice mechanism looks at reconciliation whatever circumstances occurred. How are we going to ensure co-existence after formal justice.
ISAAC OKWIR IS HEAD OF JUSTICE AND RECONCILIATION PROJECT IN NORTHERN UGANDA. ISAAC SAYS HE HAS FAITH THE LOCAL JUSTICE SYSTEM WILL HELP TO RECONCILE HIS PEOPLE IN THE NORTH.
ISAAC OKWIR: For the case of Dominic Ongwen, he is going to be found guilty or not. At the end of the day we have people behind Dominic Ongwen or against Dominic Ongwen who are here at home. How are we going to ensure that these two parties who are here continue to live together whether he is found guilty or not. If he is found not guilty how are we going to receive him back in the community. The local justice mechanism that will ensure it prepares people to receive Dominic Ongwen and live with him again.
TODAY SAMUEL OPERATES A SMALL SHOP IN A VILLAGE ABOUT 8 KM OUTSIDE GULU TOWN. HE LIVES PEACEFULLY WITH HIS WIFE AND CHILD. BEATRICE LIVES WITH HER CHILDREN ABOUT 2KM AWAY FROM GULU TOWN. SHE WORKS FOR A CHURCH ORGANIZATION WHERE SHE SEWS BAGS THAT ARE EXPORTED BY THE CHURCH. FROM THE LITTLE MONEY SHE MAKES, SHE IS TRYING TO CARE FOR AND PROVIDE AN EDUCATION FOR THE CHILDREN SHE BORE WITH OKOT ODIAMBO THE LRA COMMANDER, AND THE CHILDREN SHE HAS HAD SINCE SHE RETURNED FROM CAPTIVITY. BEATRICE SAYS LOOKING BACK, AND FORWARD, JUSTICE MEANS HOLDING ACCOUNTABLE NOT ONLY THOSE WHO COMMITTED THE VIOLENCE, BUT THOSE WHO WATCHED AND DIDN’T DO ANYTHING TO PROTECT HER.
BEATRICE OCWEE: This government should compensate us who were abducted. Like me. I was abducted when the government soldiers were on the other side of the road. They should have done anything to save me. So the government needs to compensate me. If they don’t do it, I will not be happy. I find that this government ruined my life more than the rebels.
FOR LIFE OF THE LAW, I’M GLADYS OROMA IN GULU UGANDA.
Justice, part three of our series Uganda, was reported by Gladys Oroma from Gulu Uganda. This series was produced in partnership with Annie Bunting from York University in Toronto, Teddy Atim, researcher in Kampala, Uganda, and life of the law senior producer, Tony Gannon. Special thanks to Ian Coss for his composition and assistance with sound design, Daphne Keevil Harold for her editing and fact-checking. Translation narrators were David Okema and Ema Okanokodi. We had assistance from reporter Rosebell Kagumire in Gulu Uganda. Our post production editor is Rachael Cain.
Our series is funded by the Conjugal Slavery in War Partnership, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the National Science Foundation, the Law and Society Association, and by you, our listeners. This series has been more than a year in production, and we thank you for your donations to help cover the costs of this independent, international project. Please visit our website, lifeofthelaw.org and make a donation today to support this series. And while you’re on our website, subscribe to our newsletter, with behind the scenes notes from Annie Bunting and Gladys Oroma.
Join us in two weeks for part four – when our team of journalists and scholars meet up from studios around the world to discuss our series, Uganda.
Suggested Reading and Viewing:
https://uwpress.wisc.edu/books/5290.htm (I am Evelyn Amony)
http://fic.tufts.edu/location/uganda/ (Feinstein, TUFTS work on Uganda)
http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title/DolanSocial (Chris Dolan, Social Torture)
https://www.ubcpress.ca/contemporary-slavery (Bunting and Quirk, Contemporary Slavery with Bunting chapter on forced marriage as crime against humanity)
http://csiw-ectg.org/resources/videos-interviews/ (interview with Teddy and others)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2Yuc4ugw48 (interview with Bunting on CSiW)
Reporter Notes: Gladys Oroma
Working on the Ugandan series on the life of children formerly abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), was both depressing and exciting. As a Ugandan journalist, who has covered a number of stories on LRA conflict, I thought I knew everything about the war, but I was wrong! In my mind I gave myself a month to get done with everything concerning the series but once again, I was wrong! When Teddy Atim and I began interviewing the formerly abducted people, it was interesting to listen to what had actually happened to them in detail. Normally these children never tell their experience in-depth. Listening to Beatrice narrate her rape experience was very informative and depressing, yet never at one moment did she break down.
When I was told that a scholar and I would be interviewing Beatrice and Samuel, I was not thrilled. In my work, the only time I involve scholars and experts, is when I am doing research, or when I need their opinion on certain topics. So having a scholar involved in the whole process of the series was a new experience. I wondered what their contribution would be. Looking back, I now realize the tremendous role they played. Teddy Atim and Annie Bunting, having done extensive research on the LRA, were very knowledgeable about this conflict. This was something that came in handy during the editing of the script. They guided the team on some of the choices of words that were used in the script. Words which, to a journalist like me looked innocent, but to Teddy and Annie, these words meant something else or portrayed a different issue.
I have worked with a number of foreign editors before, but never for a podcast. Working with Tony Gannon, Life of the Law’s Senior Producer, and Nancy Mullane, Editor and Executive Producer, was a new experience too. Nancy, as the editor showed me a different way of writing a script. As she edited, I got to see a new way of writing a script, which under normal circumstances, I would not consider. Each day she edited, the script became more captivating and interesting to read, and it still, conveyed the story. Listening to the episodes when they were published on Life of the Law was interesting — the different types of music used by Tony made the podcast interesting, much as it was sometimes talking about depressing and serious issues.
As a journalist reporting for a different audience, it was scary for me, since the series involved me narrating the story and had several African accents in it. I thought my foreign accent and other African accents in the series would discourage the listeners from listening to all the series. But I was wrong. I realize it was not about that. Actually it didn’t stop people from listening to the experiences of Beatrice and Samuel who were once captured during the LRA conflict. Which was what the series team wanted.
Scholar Notes: Annie Bunting
“Exit notes/closing thoughts” as Episode 3 in our Series on Uganda goes to final sound design in the hands of the talented Tony Gannon. Nancy told me earlier this week that Life of the Law had a 25% increase in individual downloads month-to-month since we published the Uganda series in January. This is incredible. We have had the privilege of co-creating this series and sharing it with thousands of listeners. And the collaborative process to create the series has been amazing. Weekly and then twice weekly we have had conference calls with five people across three time zones in three countries made it possible. I am very grateful to the team for their wonderful work, to Beatrice and Samuel for sharing their stories, and to all our contributors.
I want to reflect here on collaborative storytelling and when to hang on and when to let go. What do I mean by that? As the academic director of ‘Conjugal Slavery in War’ research Partnership, I pitched the idea of a Life of the Law episode on our research on abduction for the purposes of forced marriage in conflict situations to Nancy Mullane almost two years ago. When Gladys Oroma came on board as our series reporter in Gulu, Uganda, we knew we had a reporter with the integrity and sensitivity to tell the story. But I had to let the story go into their capable hands. It was no longer just a story about our research on abductions for forced marriage and forced labour in conflict situations.
As researchers and scholars, we are used to being in control of how we discuss our research on an issue. It was such a privilege to learn from radio journalists who are experts on auditory storytelling. Words on paper are different than words over the airwaves. Episode 1 was the most difficult for me, as I am accustomed to setting up the socio-legal context differently than journalists. There was a point where Nancy and Gladys reminded me that our listeners need to get to know Beatrice and Samuel and be invested in their lives, not necessarily the legal landscape of international criminal law. This required me letting go.
There were also moments for each of us when we would insist on something, hang on to a point, or trust an instinct. Whenever we voiced a concern during our weekly conference call, the result was a better story and a better script. Our Ugandan researcher Teddy Atim helped corroborate the details with her rich empirical knowledge from years of research. Gladys’ script was worked and re-worked by the team until we all felt it captured the issues we needed to highlight in the series.
Before working on this series with Gladys, Tony and Nancy, I had no idea of the demands of script writing and sound design for radio/podcasts. I have deep respect for my colleagues’ storytelling and expertise.
Researcher Notes: Teddy Atim
For sometime now, there has been increasing demand to try and find helpful and user-friendly ways to share the results of research in ways that can make our target audience interested and get the key message. As part of my of research on experiences of serious crimes resulting from the conflict in northern Uganda, we had already been exploring different ways to get research results outside conferences or meetings or use more captivating approaches to communicate our research results.
First, I worked on a video documentary aimed at capturing the key messages of our research on conflict affected populations in northern Uganda as part ongoing research work by the Feinstein International Center in northern Uganda. It was tiring, especially the translation. Even though I didn’t take much role in the edits towards the final video production. So, when the idea of producing a podcast came up, it was timely but also scary because I had never ventured into it even though I really like listening to podcasts.
I didn’t know how much work it would take. I thought it would be simple. Go to the field and get the voices. But then, I realized we needed a lot of preparation to layout what we expected from the podcast. Who would be our main characters, and what kind of questions would be ask? We needed to set up the scenes that would guide us once we were out in the field. Then it came to all the nitty-gritty of transcription, editing the scripts, and getting the voices and background music.
There were the technical challenges of recording in remote, windy and noisy environments to ensure the quality of recordings. To communicate with the series team, we needed different communication applications — to upload the work so that team members in different places could access it easily. I practically couldn’t keep up with it sometimes. I got lost often between the different communication applications we used to share information and to edit the work. I then realized it takes time, logistics and planning to get it right, requiring numerous team calls across different time zones.
Thanks to Nancy, the Executive Producer at Life of the Law, Tony Gannon, Life of the Law’s Senior Producer, and Gladys Oroma, the local reporter in northern Uganda, the task got clearer and easier. They guided the podcast production, reminding Annie Bunting and I to stay with the script and let the story evolve and let the storytelling lens guide the work. Because of that, we ended up with three episodes that captured the original idea of the podcast, instead of the one we initially had in mind. We are grateful to them because they taught us to let go when we wanted to hang on.
Lastly, to Samuel and Beatrice. Thank you for accepting to share your very difficult past to remind the world of the lasting life-long horrors of war, and the importance of social, economic and cultural justice, which is as important, if not more important, to the survival and recovery of survivors following conflict. I learned enormously from your stories and resilience. When I shared the episode with a friend, she asked me how she can learn to be resilient because she couldn’t imagine going through such horror and live as you two do, yet without any available psycho, social and other forms of support. Your stories give hope and strength to people, and remind us that despite the horrors of war, human strength is remarkable, it cannot be broken easily.