In Kampala, Uganda this weekend, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will briefly trade his loafers for cleats and participate in a ceremony at at special soccer match with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni.
The match occurs as diplomats across town attend a major conference of the International Criminal Court. The teams squaring off will include war crimes victims who hail from the four places that the International Criminal Court has on-going investigations: Northern Uganda, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
At The Nelson Mandela Nation Stadium on Sunday, most of the players and spectators will have a deeply personal connection the issues debated by diplomats inside the ICC conference halls. And so it is for the founder of the NGO that is organizing the match, Victor Ochen.
I first met Victor at a conference in Addis Ababa in November 2008. (I profiled him in a 2008 Huffington Post column). At the time, he had recently launched the Africa Youth Initiative Network to assist victims of civil war in Northern Uganda. With a grant from the International Criminal Court’s victims trust fund, Ochen brought plastic surgeons to treat victims that were mutilated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militia whose leader is wanted by the ICC.
Victor himself is a victim of the LRA. He lost a brother to the militia and grew up in refugee camps. He has made it his life’s mission to support the social, psychological and physical well being of LRA war crimes victims through the work of his NGO.
This weekend, though, he is taking the cause global. “It’s a one in a million chance to have the S-G play,” says Ochen. “We are planning to bring to bring over 1000 victims from Northern Uganda, Darfur, Central African Republic, DRC, and so many from other countries.” Ochen is lobbying to make May 30th declared an International War Crimes Victims Day.
A spokesman for the Secretary General says in a pre-game ceremony Ban will kick a soccer ball into the net as a gesture of support for war crimes victims. The spokesman adds that Ban is participating in the events in Kampala to give war crimes victims a greater voice in international community.
So how does Ban rate as a player? In fact, this is not the first time that Ban has taken to the soccer field. Last year, Ban made his charity soccer debut in New York for an event organized by Play31, an NGO that helps bring soccer to communities recovering from conflict. I asked Jakob Silas Lund, Play31’s cofounder and one-time teammate of the S-G. “I don’t think the football pitch is where he’s spent most of his life,” says Lund. “Which is probably exactly what you want from someone who’s the leader of the United Nations.”
On Sunday, though, taking the field with war crimes victims as diplomats debate the finer points of international criminal law is exactly where you would want him.