25 years of prison time. This is the amount of time Uganda’s former militia leader will have to serve for being conducive to war crimes and many crimes against humanity. The landmark decision by International Criminal Court (ICC) is historical and setting precedent in Uganda. The cult LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) of Uganda instigated and engaged in violent blood campaign during mid 1980s in Uganda and neighboring countries. The carnage stopped just a few years back.
Dominic Ongwen, Commander in LRA during the period was sentenced to 25 years by presiding judge in ICC, Bertram Schmitt. The panel of judges had earlier sought life imprisonment for Ongwen. But court’s harshest punishment was later sided against considering Ongwen’s personal suffering. In February, Ongwen was convicted on charges of rape, murder, sexual slavery, abduction and torture.
Defense had presented argument that as Ongwen was kidnapped by LRA when he was 10 years old, the crimes committed were under duress. The arguments were blatantly rejected by the court. The lawyers presented argument that Ongwen must not be sentenced for more than 10 years as he has been a victim himself. But the judges labelled Ongwen as a very skilled and capable fighter and commander of LRA. He was proficient in planning and carrying out attacks while assessing risks and logistics. They also underlined how Ongwen never tried to leave LRA even with arising opportunities to do so, but rather did not give up any chance to rise in ranks within the violent Ugandan cult.
On Thursday, as Judge Schmitt announced the sentence, he said now 41 years old Ongwen was “a perpetrator who willfully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims, however, also a perpetrator who himself has previously endured extreme suffering at the hands of the group of which he later became a prominent member and leader”.
Charges against Ongwen included mostly attacks carried out on refugee camps from 2002-2005. Girls were forced into sexual and domestic slavery while boys were pushed into taking up arms. One of the worst attack by LRA was four day raid on camps in DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) in December 2009. 350 civilians were killed in this attack and around 250 were abducted, that included 80 children.
The momentous case has been one of the most significant and symbolic cases in 18 years of ICC’s existence. Symbolic as it has set a precedence for future cases and prosecuting violators of humanity.