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Uganda Split Over Ongwen's Confirmation Charges

Dominic Ongwen, center, a senior commander in the Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, sits in the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Jan. 21, 2016.

Dominic Ongwen's confirmation of charges hearing at the International Criminal Court, which will determine if there is sufficient evidence for a trial, has once again brought the conversation of justice and peace in northern Uganda to the forefront.

For the first time, Ugandans around the nation are watching live as a former LRA commander undergoes his pre-trial hearing at the ICC in The Hague.

Victim or perpetrator?

The case of Dominic Ongwen has divided many on the meaning of justice and reconciliation. Ongwen is seen as both a victim and a perpetrator.

Abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army at only 10 years old, he joined the ranks of thousands of other child soldiers. But over time Ongwen managed to rise through the ranks of the LRA, carrying out multiple attacks and working his way into Joseph Kony's inner circle.

Ongwen surrendered himself in the Central African Republic in January of 2015, and soon after was transferred to the ICC.

ICC role

The Refugee Law Project, which heads a number of peace and justice programs, has set up six screening locations throughout northern Uganda. Victims of the war can watch Ongwen's pre-trial hearing live alongside community and religious leaders.

Refugee Law Project Director Stephen Oolo says opinions are largely divided on the role of the ICC.

“The people are still glued on their screens, watching and following the proceedings very carefully ... Before the screening we did a bit of consultation with victims," said Oolo. "And the reactions were mixed. There are those that would have preferred him here in Uganda. But there are also many who found Ongwen is better off at the ICC.”

But Oolo says many are wondering why the Ugandan government has not played a more prominent role during the hearing. That is not only because the UPDF has been accused of committing atrocities during the war, but because the state failed to protect Ongwen from the LRA in the first place,

“I have just listened to the introduction of the case by the prosecutor," said Oolo. "And I think they did a fairly good job in highlighting the nature and background of the LRA. But what did not come out very clearly was the role of the government and the government forces ... One of the issues that Ongwen's case brings to the fore is the issue of protection. Which I think the prosecutor should have highlighted from the beginning and he missed that opportunity.”

Ongwen's pre-trial hearing is expected to last three to five days. If the court finds there is sufficient evidence, the case is expected to go to trial.