A cross-section of people in Northern Uganda is calling for a lighter sentence or even a pardon for Dominic Ongwen, one of the commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army who was convicted for war crimes and Crimes against Humanity.
Ongwen was the first LRA commander to face trial before the International Criminal Court, for atrocities committed by the LRA against the Civilian population in Northern Uganda. Many of the crimes for which he was convicted were committed in internally displaced people’s camps in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader.
The court rejected Defence arguments that because Ongwen, 41, was abducted by the LRA at the age of nine, he had committed the crimes under duress and should therefore not be held liable. Earlier in the trial, Ongwen had also stated that he was one of the people against whom the LRA committed atrocities.
The judges then recounted how ruthless Ongwen’s Sinia Brigade was to the population, an account that aroused disturbing memories among crowds in Lukodi, one of the sites of the attack, as they followed proceedings relayed from The Hague-Based International Criminal Court.
“Abductees were beaten for walking too slowly,” the ruling stated. “One abductee was forced to kill another with a club and forced to inspect corpses. Another abductee was forced to watch someone being killed. Some mothers were forced to abandon their children on the side of the road; one child was left on a rubbish pit.” Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt narrated.
After announcing the guilty verdict, the ICC scheduled a sentencing hearing for mid-April. But, because the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC does not provide for a death penalty, possible punishments for Ongwen will now include a prison sentence of up to 30-years or life imprisonment.
However, several people in northern Uganda are pleading for leniency, saying that Ongwen is not entirely responsible for the atrocities committed against the population in northern Uganda during the time of the insurgency. Many suggest that Ongwen never wanted to kill, but was forced by the circumstances at the time.
Richard Okello, a resident of Alero Sub –County in Nwoya district who lost his brother in the LRA insurgency told URN that it is self-defeating to convict Ongwen, yet several other LRA rebels are walking freely in Uganda on the basis of amnesty.
Florence Lawino, 60, who was displaced in Paicho Internally Displaced People’s Camp in Gulu district recalls how their properties were looted by the rebels from the camp. She said in one of the LRA’s raids of the camp, her nephew’s mouth was maimed in their presence before he was abducted, never to be seen again. According to Lawino, another son of her brother in–law was killed by the rebels after he failed to walk while carrying a heavy load.
But Kevin Aciro, who was born in the LRA captivity in 1996 and first came home in 2002 asked fellow victims of the LRA to forgive Ongwen because the atrocities he was convicted of are now in the past.
Anthony Acire from Pece –Laroo Division in Gulu City who followed the said that the verdict favoured the victims more than Dominic Ongwen who needed to come back home and reunite with his relatives, considering the fact that he was abducted as a child.
However, Faith Lagum, a war victim with visual impairment caused as a result of the LRA attacks in their home hailed ICC for trying and convicting Ongwen saying justice has served its course.