On On Thursday, February 7th as part of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies Workshop, Shannon Golden presented a subsection of her dissertation called "International Law in Local Context: The ICC in Northern Uganda." Golden is a PhD candidate in Sociology and recently completed 11 months of fieldwork in northern Uganda for her dissertation which explores the process of social reconstruction in post-war northern Uganda. Her presentation on Thursday considered the knowledge about and perceptions of the impact of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Lukodi, Anyadwe, and Awach, three rural villages in northern Uganda. Golden interviewed 91 conflict survivors during her fieldwork in Uganda, hoping to understand why communities have differing perceptions of the ICC and whether or not the ICC has been successful in disseminating knowledge to local communities.
Uganda is one of 8 active cases in the International Criminal Court focused on victims' rights. The ICC's involvement in Uganda started in 2003, and in 2010 the ICC started an outreach program aimed at the communities in northern Uganda. Golden questions whether the ICC's outreach program achieved goals that were set during northern Uganda's process of rebuilding after two decades of war between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony, and the government's Uganda Peoples' Defense Force (UPDF). She found the official ICC Outreach Report to show a one dimensional picture of success often contradictory with her own research. The ICC figures indicate that 98% of conflict survivors polled were happy with the presence of ICC in their country.
The 91 interviewees were systematically selected leaders and residents of the three rural villages. She asked these survivors about the process of rebuilding and a few about ICC's involvement in the communities. Golden received both positive and negative feedback on the ICC, and came to a general consensus that most people in Uganda had little or no knowledge of the ICC with women being much more likely to have no knowledge. She found that Lukodi residents had a higher knowledge of the ICC compared to those of Anyadwe and Awach. This could be linked to the fact that Lukodi has had a high level of exposure to the ICC outreach events in 2010, and a high level of delegation visits since a massacre that occurred in 2004.
Positive perceptions of the ICC gathered by Golden had to do with locals believing that the ICC drove the LRA away, bringing peace to Uganda and letting people move back to areas they were forced out of. Some believed the ICC would bring needed punishment for crimes committed and bring justice to victims. The most frequently mentioned positive perception was that the ICC could deter others from committing similar crimes in the future.
Negative perceptions mainly had to do with frustration at the lack of action by the ICC, as no LRA leader has been tried for his crimes. A handful of people talked about the ICC as a "fairy tale;" a beautiful story that will never come true. They feel the ICC hasn't done enough, and that their outreach programs have not been beneficial to the majority of the survivors.
Based on this mix of feedback, Golden assembled her own theories as to why perceptions of the ICC are so varied. Golden states that her first theory about the error in translation between the ICC and the local community is the proliferation of international governmental and nongovernmental organizations. Uganda has seen a postwar influx of international organizations and locals have developed a 'tool kit' to help them make sense of these organizations. The ICC has fallen into the same category as other IGOs and NGOs because they are not integrated into the daily lives of the locals, and some see them as having their own agenda that does not fit with the local situation.
Golden's second theory is that the ICC is disconnected from the suffering. This relates to the view by many locals that the ICC is distant and far removed from the situation. One of Golden's respondents told her that, "Unless they [the ICC] begin to become practical on the ground, they would remain an irrelevant institution and not very helpful even to people who suffer."
The third theory is that there are mismatched cultural schemas. Locals in Uganda often do not understand the way the ICC sees their situation. Although residents of Lukodi have more knowledge of the ICC, the organization frequently does not make sense to them because ICC programs and methods of intervention does not fit with their worldview. Another respondent said, "For them [the ICC], they emphasize justice. Over emphasis on justice does not give room to forgiveness and amnesty. So that is the part of ICC that I cannot understand." A young respondent told Golden, "And to me, the ICC doesn't understand anything."
The last theory has to do with the locals experience with local courts and how it has influenced their view of the ICC. The community is extremely critical of courts, again because they feel they are too far removed from local communities. They believe courts and the ICC are unable to recognize the history of the area, the gray areas of their situation and culture.
Golden's data and fieldwork show that there are problems with the ICC's approach to the situation in northern Uganda. She has been able to come up with theories as to why these problems exist, and why local Ugandans have varied perceptions of the ICC. While Golden doesn't think the ICC reciprocates what the people on the ground want, she acknowledges the difficulty of taking local's feedback and making the changes they ask for.
The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies organizes the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies Workshop. Click here to see the workshop schedule. If you are interested in participating in the workshop, contact Shannon Golden.
Written by Wren Bentley.