ICC sentences Ongwen to 25 years in prison
May 7, 2021
DOMINIC Ongwen, who was abducted by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) when he was 10, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005.
He had been convicted in February this year and the period of his detention between January 2015 and May 2021 will be taken into account when serving his sentence.
Although the ICC acknowledged that Ongwen was also a victim of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) when he and over 30,000 boys and girls were snatched by the rebels and forced to become soldiers, labourers, and sex slaves, Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said Ongwen later “wilfully and lucidly brought tremendous suffering upon his victims”.
However, the Court said it could not sentence Ongwen, 46, to life imprisonment “considering his individual circumstances and in order to envisage a concrete prospect for [him] to eventually re-build his life”.
The judges rejected defence arguments that the case should be dealt with in line with traditional justice, pointing out that the Rome Statute of the ICC did not make provisions for imprisonment under traditional justice mechanisms.
They also noted that Acholi traditional justice mechanisms were not in widespread enough for them to replace formal justice.
Human Rights Watch said that the Ongwen sentencing “should not obscure a gaping hole in accountability for LRA crimes”, pointing out that LRA founding leader Joseph Kony – the only remaining living ICC suspect for LRA crimes – remained a fugitive.
Kony has been operating in a disputed border area of Sudan and South Sudan as of mid-2020. “The ICC – without its own police force – cannot ensure his apprehension,” HRW said.
“On behalf of the victims, governments in the region and beyond should recommit to working together, along with United Nations peacekeeping missions, to see that he too faces justice at last.”
The Court ordered that reparations be paid to victims, an essential part of the system of justice at the ICC.
The judges promised that they would “push forward the reparation stage of the proceedings with vigour and the utmost care”.
Ongwen’s lawyers can appeal against the sentence before the ICC Appeals Chamber.