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Dominic Ongwen's Trial and its Meaning for President Museveni

The Pre-Trial Proceedings

The pre-trial hearings on the case of Dominic Ongwen in the International Criminal Court (ICC) have come to an end and the verdict of the pre-trail chamber will be known soon.  After that decision, Ongwen’s case will either proceed to full trial or the ICC will let him off if the chamber will have reason to believe that there is no sufficient evidence to have the case proceed to full trial.

Alleged Crimes Committed by Ongwen

The warrant of arrest for Ongwen lists seven counts on the basis of his individual criminal responsibility allegedly committed on or about May 20, 2004 at the Lukodi IDP Camp in the northern Uganda district of Gulu. Three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, enslavement, inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering and four counts of war crimes [murder; cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population as well as pillaging.But the prosecutor also submitted a notice indicating her intention to charge Ongwen with crimes based on facts beyond those stipulated in the warrant of arrest. Additional charges were mainly related to attacks on the Pajule IDP camp, the Odek IDP camp and the Abok IDP camp, in addition to the Lukodi camp.

Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen are the five top Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) senior Commanders whose arrest warrants were issued by the ICC in 2005 following a referral by the government of Uganda. Apart from the crimes featuring in Ongwen’s charge sheet, the Joseph Kony-led LRA is also blamed for the kidnapping of over 60,000 children from Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic since the rebellion began in 1987. Some of the said Commanders have since died. But Kony is still a fugitive. Civilians, including children, are believed to have been abducted and forcibly ‘recruited’ as fighters, porters and sex slaves to serve the LRA and to contribute to attacks against the Ugandan army and civilian communities.

When Victims become Killers

Dominic Ongwen is a perfect example of the complexity that emerges when victims become perpetrators. The fact that Ongwen was abducted at the age of ten by LRA before being transformed into a killing machine that he became is definitely one that will feature prominently in this regard. Already debate on the matter has been seen not only in the pre-trial chamber court room at the Hague but also across Uganda. While it is understood that Ongwen should legally face trial for crimes that he committed after turning eighteen, the argument on the failure of government of Uganda to protect the young Ongwen from LRA abduction is inescapable. The Ugandan state has the responsibility to protect the people of Uganda and their property. There is therefore a whole tenable argument that the state failed to protect Ongwen and thousands of other Ugandans from LRA. I think this will feature again and again in the case of Ongwen. It will be interesting to observe the arguments that will be paraded on this issue.

Crimes Committed by the State

Most interestingly, however, will be the emergence of issues around the role of the Ugandan state and indeed the security agencies, specifically the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) in the conflict in northern Uganda. It is true that LRA waged a war against the Kampala administration but the government never sat back; it responded; it fought the insurgency. In such a fight; it is unreasonable to narrow criminal responsibility to one party. Otherwise we risk another situation of victor’s justice which has proved unsustainable. The UPDF may have not committed crimes that can measure up to those committed by the LRA but certainly the Ugandan soldiers committed crimes too. A crime is a crime. I look forward to the full trial and to matters that will arise along the way in regard to this issue and the Ugandan response, especially to President to the same.

President Museveni’s Stand on the ICC

What makes it interesting is the fact that President Museveni has consistently supported the ICC in regard to the prosecution of the LRA commanders while on the other hand accuses the ICC of targeting Africa. I have no idea yet how he will respond if and when issues on crimes committed in the name of the state by security forces will emerge during the Ongwen trial. I see in Museveni a perfect example of mkuki mtamu kwa nguruwe (a spear is sweet for a pig). It appears that for him, the ICC is good when it goes for those who are outside power like Ongwen but very bad if and when it comes to those in positions of power regardless their culpability. The President of Uganda has always accused the ICC of targeting Africa and has been on the front-line in supporting Kenya’s President and his Deputy in their crusade against the ICC but when it comes to Ongwen President Museveni is in full support of the ICC.

Dominic Ongwen's Trial and its Meaning for President Museveni Dominic Ongwen's Trial and its Meaning for President Museveni Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on January 29, 2016 Rating: 5

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