It emerged today that a former senior military commander of the Lord Resistance Army, Dominic Ongwen, will be transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity. What do we know and what is speculation? Justice Hub provides some answers.
Q: Why the ICC?
Dominic Ongwen is one of five senior leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army charged in 2005 by the ICC for crimes against humanity. The case against him, Joseph Kony and others had been put on hold. But the Office of the Prosecutor had never stopped saying that it wanted to put these senior LRA people on trial.
Q: Why not Uganda?
It’s not clear whether Ongwen was ever formally handed over to the Ugandans. He was captured – or maybe surrendered to – Seleka rebels in the neighbouring Central Africa Republic. They allegedly handed over Ongwen to American special forces. Last year, the US extended its rewards for justice programme. And specifically mentioned Ongwen as one of the targets. So whoever handed him over could have got USD 5 million. It was reported that Ongwen was actually handed over to Uganda, but it’s not been clear whether he was transferred out of the CAR. Academic and blogger Mark Kersten had already speculated that getting the CAR to hand him over helped Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni get out an embarrassing situation: cooperating with a court that he’s been criticizing heavily for the last few years.
Q: Why no amnesty?
There’s a tape circulating of Ongwen calling on other LRA rebels to surrender.
He says that he’s been promised amnesty. Uganda has an amnesty law dating back to 2000 which applies to rebels who give up arms. But it’s been a confusing situation inside Uganda, with a trial against a senior LRA commander stopped by the constitutional court. There’s a lack of clarity of whether and to whom the law applies. According to a statement by Museveni’s press spokesperson, an amnesty cannot apply to those indicted by the ICC. Museveni’s statement also says that the amnesty would only apply when fighting the government. But according to the statement, Ongwen’s “victims and those of the LRA top commanders were innocent men, women and children, ripped from their homes, schools, communities; killed, maimed and used as sex slaves and fighters in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan”.
Q: What kinds of charges?
The charges against him in the arrest warrant are heavily redacted, so it’s difficult to be precise. After nearly a decade of inactivity, it’s likely that the Office of the Prosecutor will have to start by finding the witnesses they previously had. And it’s possible that other crimes – for instance in the CAR where the LRA have been active during the civil war – or in DRC – where the rebels were hiding out – could lead to additional charges against Ongwen. There are currently seven charges in the case-file against Ongwen, including three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes.
Q: How long will it take?
A comparable case may be that of Bosco Ntaganda, who surrendered to the American embassy in Kigali in March 2013. His trial is due to start more than a year later. But, in his case, the other Democratic Republic of the Congo trials were ongoing. They hadn’t been hibernated.
Q: Will The Hague wait to put other LRA members on trial?
Considering how long it’s taken to get hold of one LRA commander, it’s unlikely they will wait for another.
Q: Wasn’t Ongwen captured as a child himself? How can he be charged?
Ongwen may have been captured as a child and turned into a soldier, but for some of the offences, so far as we know, he was no longer a child. However, his lawyers may use that argument in court. And – if it comes to that – it would be used as a significant argument to seek a low sentence against him.
If you want more background on who Dominic Ongwen is, see Samuel Okiror’s post here.
And follow our coverage of the debate earlier this week, here.
Lead image: US special forces hunting down the LRA (Photo: AP)