Former Ugandan rebel leader facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mr Dominic Ongwen, was today May 6 sentenced to 25 years in prison following trial judgment in which the Trial Chamber IX found him guilty for a total of 61 crimes.
Ongwen, who was a high-ranking leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was sentenced for crimes against humanity and war crimes that were committed in northern Uganda between July 1, 2002 and December 25, 2005.
In sentencing him, Trial Chamber IX of the International Criminal Court said period of his detention between January 4, 2015 and May 6, 2021, will be subtracted from the total time of imprisonment imposed on him.
The court allowed him to appeal the sentence before the Appeals Chamber by either party to the proceedings.
Presiding Judge Ognjen Bertram Schmitt read a summary of the Chamber’s decision. Judge Schmitt noted that the chamber was confronted in the present case with a unique situation. He explained that the court was confronted with a perpetrator who wilfully and lucidly brought tremendous suffering upon his victims.
However, it is also confronted with a perpetrator who himself had previously endured extreme suffering at the hands of the group of which he later became a prominent member and leader, he observed.
The chamber granted certain rights in mitigation to the circumstances of Dominic Ongwen’s childhood, his abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at a very young age and his early stay with the LRA. The court rejected the defence’s arguments, recalling its analysis of evidence in the judgment issued on February 4, 2021, and considered that the mitigating circumstances of substantially diminished mental capacity and duress are not applicable.
The chamber also rejected the arguments of the defence concerning traditional justice mechanisms, noting that there exists no possibility under the statute to replace a term of imprisonment with traditional justice mechanisms, or to incorporate traditional justice mechanisms into the sentence in any other way.
A press release after the ruling was communicated to Ongwen said, “It also noted that Acholi traditional justice mechanisms are not in widespread use, to the extent that they would replace formal justice, and that they are reserved to members of the Acholi community, meaning that their use would mean that some victims belonging to other ethnic groups would be excluded.”
“The chamber emphasised that reconciliation, whatever its form, is a process in which victim participation is essential, and noted that it is clear that many victims of the crimes committed by Dominic Ongwen do not support the idea of traditional justice in the present case, and that they have also criticised the fact that submissions in this regard were made to the Chamber without consulting them,” it went further.
The chamber said it had analysed one-by-one the gravity of each of the 61 crimes for which Ongwen was convicted, finding several aggravating circumstances applicable to some or even most crimes.
“Aggravating circumstances included particular cruelty, multiplicity of victims, the victims being particularly defenceless and discrimination on political grounds and discrimination against women. The chamber imposed individual sentences for each crime, taking the mitigating circumstance of Dominic Ongwen’s childhood and abduction by the LRA into due account. The highest individual sentences were of 20 years. Other sentences pronounced for individual crimes were of 14 or eight years of imprisonment,” the court posited.
In its determination of the joint sentence for all the crimes for which Ongwen was convicted, the chamber declined to sentence the accused to life imprisonment, citing his individual circumstances and in order to envisage a concrete prospect for him to eventually rebuild his life.
In view of the foregoing, the court, by majority, decided to impose a joint sentence of 25 years of imprisonment.
The statement said, “The majority, composed of Judge Bertram Schmitt and Judge Péter Kovács, is of the view that this joint sentence adequately reflects the strongest condemnation by the international community of the crimes committed by Ongwen and acknowledges the great harm and suffering caused to the victims.”
It further said that the majority ruled that such a joint sentence acknowledges Ongwen’s unique personal history and safeguards the prospect of his successful social rehabilitation and, consequently, the concrete possibility of future reintegration into society.
Judge Raul Cano Pangalangan appended a partly dissenting opinion on this matter as he would have sentenced Ongwen to a total of 30 years.
The chamber also issued an order for submissions on reparations. It explained that the right of victims to reparations is also an essential part of the system of justice at the court, and stated that it was going to bring forward the reparation stage of the proceedings.
- A Tell report