Lukodi, Uganda | AFP |
Alanyo Juzima wipes the tears from her eyes and points at the flickering image of a smartly-dressed man in a suit projected onto the classroom wall. “He’s the one,” she says.
Juzima scrutinises the picture in front of her, of Dominic Ongwen in the dock at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. “I recognise him from the night he attacked the village — his nose, everything — I saw him,” she says.
The 67-year-old still lives in Lukodi, the village in northern Uganda where rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), allegedly under Ongwen’s command, killed more than 60 people and abducted others in a May 2004 attack.
“The LRA soldiers hit me on the back with a rifle butt. They entered our huts, killed people inside and burned them down. They burnt my grandmother in her own hut and shot the son of my co-wife,” Juzima said on Tuesday. She was speaking at the opening of Ongwen’s war crimes trial which was broadcast to an audience of around 500 intrigued locals at Lukodi Primary School.
Squeezed onto dilapidated wooden school benches — the elderly and the young, men and women, survivors and those who have heard the stories, some smartly-dressed and others in rags — all watched with stony, expressionless faces as the court proceedings slowly unfolded.
Struggling to keep her anger in check, Juzima says: “I feel like I could go to The Hague and kill Ongwen myself.”
She fears he may be cleared of the charges against him — 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity — and will return to kill again in northern Uganda.
‘The dead are still dead’
Juzima peers closer at the broadcast image, at Ongwen in a suit and tie, clean-shaven, neat, well-fed. Compared to those crammed into the rural classroom he looks prosperous. “He’s very fat,” she says. “He doesn’t look like he has any problems.”
Geoffery Oola leans heavily on a crutch as he rises from his seat near the front of the classroom. His hips were shattered in 2007 when LRA fighters ambushed the vehicle he was travelling in, but the 35-year-old was lucky: others were killed in the attack.
The ambush was not Oola’s first encounter with the LRA. As a 12-year-old boy he, like Ongwen, was abducted and forced to join the rebel group.
“I knew Ongwen very well when we were together in the bush,” he says. “I used to see Ongwen while he was the second-in-command of the Sinia Brigade. He wasn’t wild like the other commanders, he was courageous and always came back victorious.”
While Ongwen thrived, rising quickly through the rebel ranks, Oola says he was a porter and a cook not a fighter, eventually managing to escape after two years.
On his return Oola was granted amnesty as part of a Ugandan government programme and now makes a living by selling petrol in jerry cans by the roadside. He has some sympathy for Ongwen who he sees as both victim and perpetrator.
“If you’re abducted as a child then you’re not responsible for what happened,” he says. “According to the law Ongwen is guilty, but according to me he isn’t.”
Nor does Oola see the point of the ICC’s style of retributive justice which, he says, changes nothing for the LRA’s victims.
“Even if he’s jailed the people who had arms amputated won’t have them back, the injuries are still there and the dead are still dead.”