The road to justice started with a game

Published: 2 Jun 2010
By: Dismas Nkunda
Source: The Observer

So, last Sunday we had a football match in preparation of the Review Conference of the Rome Statute that is still ongoing here in Uganda.

Dubbed as a stocktaking exercise of the last 12 years that the International Criminal Court has been in existence, the football match was bound to have some tickling moments.

As we trooped into the dressing room at Namboole Stadium, I couldn’t help but marvel at the people with whom I was to play. There were very many youth, mainly from Northern Uganda. There were many diplomats from various countries. There were human rights activists from all over the world.

In the stands were judges of the ICC. There was the Deputy Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, and then Uganda’s Deputy Head of mission to the Benelux countries, Ambassador Mirjam Blaak, a lady who clearly has her teeth in the operations of the court.

Most came in anticipation of watching President Museveni taking on Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations. The victims of various atrocities committed by different rebel and government forces were in attendance too.

There were those who bore the brunt of the war in Northern Uganda. There were the Darfurians from Sudan. There were Congolese. They all wanted to be part of the action.

The first part of the match was as eventful. Never had I thought in the wildest of imaginations that I would be there fighting for the ball with a head of state! Neither had it over occurred to me that I could play alongside the Italian Justice minister, or indeed the President of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute.

Or even playing alongside the very people who have had agony and injustice eating deep into their minds!

Two people on my team made it all very clear. There was this agile girl, Atim, from Gulu District. Her jersey had the words ‘Justice’ inscribed on it. Her name on the T-shirt was ‘Barlonyo’; that notorious place where several civilians were massacred during the war in northern Uganda.

Then there was this boy called Okello; he was slim and a good ball player. He was on team ‘Dignity’ and his jersey name was ‘Atiak’; another of the legendary killing fields.

But for me, the symbolism of the match was what captured my attention, not who scored or indeed who won. Here we were with an interesting mix. The politicians who could have protected these victims; the judges who are supposed to deliver the long sought after justice; the prosecutors who are supposed to do the investigation and issue arrest warrants; but, more importantly, the victims themselves.

This was all summed up in this young man Okello. A victim of the Atiak massacre, he picked up a loose ball, dashed into the box of the ‘Justice’ team. He dribbled past one judge, leaving him sprawled on the ground, and then past the Italian Justice minister, before unleashing a shot at the goal mouth, beating the ICC judge custodian.

He scored. There was cheering from the crowds. Okello ran in circles showing off his back with the word ‘Atiak’.

That for me was the highlight of this match. For an ordinary person, it looked a normal goal but for me it spoke volumes. Maybe the judge and the minister beaten to the ball by Okello learnt something; that indeed even in times of agony, there can be hope.

Inevitably, one ponders whether these high profile personalities ever knew what it meant for Okello to beat the same judge that may try the very people who brought agony to so many Okellos in so many places.

The moment of truth, however, came when Yoweri Museveni and Ban Ki –Moon took to the turf. There were ululations. The two teams each had kids from Northern Uganda and Museveni was in Team White while Ki-Moon was in Team Blue.

Each was playing alongside a victim of war. For the young boys and girls, that was the closest they could ever get to the President or indeed the Secretary General of the UN. As they shook hands with these kids, I thought for once there may be hope after all. It may take long, but justice will for sure one day be delivered.

Programmes: Justice and Accountability
Regions: Uganda
Type: External Article