In November 2022, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan requested charges against Joseph Kony, a rebel leader, even though Kony has been elusive for years. This move has raised questions about the timing and selection of the candidate for trial.
The ICC’s decision to pursue Kony over other high-profile individuals like former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has left many wondering why. Both Kony and al-Bashir share the common trait of being fugitives, making their selection for trial seem arbitrary.
While the Prosecutor believes that a trial would be a significant milestone for Kony’s victims, there are concerns about whether the perspectives of these victims and the communities in Uganda were genuinely considered. It is essential that victims’ needs take center stage in any trial decisions. Uganda has its own accountability mechanisms, and the ICC’s involvement should complement these efforts, including comprehensive reparations.
The ICC’s history with Uganda dates back to 2003 when it was first referred to the Court. Since then, the ICC’s focus has been primarily on one side of the conflict, leading to a “peace versus justice” narrative. Requesting a trial in absentia raises questions about how non-witness victims will benefit from such a process and what provisions are made for reparations.
Surprisingly, public and civil society reactions in Uganda have been relatively muted, and the plight of nearly 2,000 victims involved in previous ICC investigations remains largely unaddressed. These victims, many of whom have grown into adulthood, continue to suffer from the trauma of their past experiences.
Efforts to allocate resources towards mental health and trans-generational trauma interventions are crucial for healing. Such efforts should complement traditional justice mechanisms and facilitate communal reintegration.
The ICC’s current focus on Joseph Kony’s arrest and trial seems self-serving, with little emphasis on addressing the needs of victims and affected communities. Justice should not only be done but also seen to be done, which may be lacking in this case.
The proposed trials also carry the risk of re-traumatizing victims and reviving painful memories without offering comprehensive solutions. A restorative component that focuses on healing, truth-telling, reparations, and memorialization is essential for rebuilding communities.
The ICC’s pursuit of individuals like Kony and its failure to address victims’ needs in conflicts like Ukraine raise concerns about its priorities. Victims should be at the forefront of justice efforts, and consultations with them should be transparent and extensive.
A national solution, aligned with Uganda’s transitional justice frameworks, is essential for long-term recovery. The government’s National Transitional Justice Policy and Minister Norbert Mao’s intentions to promote dialogue and reconciliation should not be overshadowed by the ICC’s trial.