Mixed reactions after ICC jails Dominic Ongwen for 25 years

Mixed reactions after ICC jails Dominic Ongwen for 25 years

This handout picture taken on May 6, 2021, and released by the International Criminal Court (ICC) shows Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), during his trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

Photo credit: Handout | various sources | AFP

A 25-year-jail term handed Thursday to Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of a rebel outfit headed by Joseph Kony, has elicited mixed reactions from leaders and survivors of a two-decade war in Uganda.

Some described the sentence as a mockery of justice while others said it was satisfactory.

Ms Roselyn Acaa, a resident of Lukodi Trading Centre, who lost her two sons during the two-decade insurgency, said prosecuting Ongwen was a waste of time and that it instead reignited the traumatic experiences the victims suffered.

“I have nothing to do with him and his trial is to the disadvantage of many of us who lost children. They are wasting time and bringing back the bad memories to haunt us again,” Ms Acaa said.

Another affected resident, Timothy Laloyo, said the magnitude of atrocities committed by Ongwen and his group should have attracted a punishment lasting more than 25 years.

“I am disappointed with the court, the reason being that 25 years [are few]. Remember they will be counting both the days and the nights of his time there, according to the court. He has been on remand for the past six years, which means he could remain with only 19 years,” Laloyo said.

“We suffered in displacement, lost our land and other properties. We have wounds that the government has failed to heal because of the war. Ongwen deserved more years,” he added.

Mr Constantine Okwonga, a resident of Pece-Pawel Village in Gulu City, said the term should have been 30 years long.

The sentence

On Thursday, in a majority 2:1 ruling, the Hague-based court jointly sentenced Ongwen to 25 years in prison.

“…it (sentence) adequately reflects the strongest condemnation by the international community of the crimes committed by Dominic Ongwen and acknowledges the great harm and suffering caused to the victims,” Presiding judge Bertram Schmitt, who read the summary of the sentence on behalf of the court, said.

Justice Raul Cano Pangalangan, the only judge out of the three, partly dissented by proposing a 30-year-jail term, which was inconsequential.

The court further said it would deduct the number of years Ongwen spent in detention from the 25.

The detention period to be considered is between January 4, 2015 and the day of sentencing, totaling six years.

Justice Schmitt named the aggravating circumstances such as cruelty, multiplicity of victims, the victims being particularly defenceless and discrimination on political grounds and discrimination against women.

Found guilty

Ongwen was in February found guilty of 61 crimes including war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from a two-decade war in northern Uganda that left more than 100,000 killed, nearly two million displaced and up to 10,000 abducted or missing.

While reading the sentence, the judge also observed that Ongwen’s case presented them with a very unique situation because he endured extreme suffering at the hands of Kony’s rebels before growing through the ranks.

Early childhood mitigation factors, such as his abduction by Kony’s rebels at the very young age of nine years and his early stay with the LRA, caused the court to arrive at 25 years instead of the maximum sentence of 30 years or life imprisonment.

However, the court rejected Ongwen’s call for a lesser sentence, saying he was of unsound mind when he committed the atrocities.

Traditional justice

The court also rejected the plea by the defence team to incorporate the Acholi traditional justice mechanisms while sentencing Ongwen.

It explained that there is no possibility under the Rome Statute to replace a term of imprisonment with traditional justice mechanisms such as mato-oput, or to incorporate traditional justice mechanisms into the sentence.

The court also issued an order for submissions on reparations (compensation of Kony's war victims).

Ongwen will be held at the ICC detention centre for 30 days before he can appeal the sentence.

Should the period end without an appeal, he will be taken to a prison in one of the member countries of the Rome Statute to serve the jail term.

The court also said when Ongwen serves two thirds of the sentence, the remaining period will be revised, possibly downwards.

The ICC's sentences are of up to 30 years in prison and under exceptional circumstances, life imprisonment. A fine can also be imposed.

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