UGANDA: A REFLECTION ON ONGWEN’S TRIAL AS EX-REBEL COMMANDER’S SENTENCE HEARING NEARS

dominic ongwen, icc, lra, northern uganda
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Dominic Ongwen during one of the court sessions –Photo (ICC)

“I ran to the world to help, rehabilitate and heal me but when I landed into its hands, it threw a rope on my neck,” that was the sentimental statement uttered by Dominic Ongwen, a former senior Lord’s Resistance Army Rebel Commander and now a convict, at the International Criminal Court on April 15th. And his sentence hearing is due on May 6th.

Ongwen, 46, who was found guilty in February this year for a total of 61 counts comprising crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed in Lukodi, Pajule, Odek and Abok in northern Uganda between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005.

Despite the outcome of the verdict, Ongwen has already assured the court that he should be set free since he already spent enough time in jail, his lawyers are also expected to appeal his guilty verdict after his sentence hearing.

“I was in LRA captivity for 27 years, detention at The Hague for 6 years. All these years are enough to make you set me free.” Ongwen, who was clad in a suit, pleaded with the judges.

“In over 1,000 battles fought and escaped alive, 23,000 of my age mates were shot dead, meaning God had better plans for me. I only pray that you help me because I can still become a better person.”

The two-decade LRA war, orchestrated by war lord Joseph Kony, led to tens of thousands of people dead and 1.5 million people internally displaced in camps across Northern Uganda. During the gruesome war, young boys and girls were also abducted as young soldiers and sex slaves respectively. But Ongwen, like many former abductees who suffered in Northern Uganda, says he was ‘a victim of circumstance’.

“I did not dream to become a soldier but circumstance forced me to become one,” said Ongwen, who was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army –LRA rebels in 1987 while on his way to schools alongside other older boys.

He has also challenged the court to examine the gravity of the damage that was caused by the three parties during the war— “Joseph Kony, Acholi elders, and himself, asking, “who is the worst sinner?” and further stating that, “what happened [during the war] was beyond me. If I had the powers, Joseph Kony would not go to the bush, [some] Acholi [elders] who supported Kony would not have done what they did… people of Northern Uganda would not have died”.

The sentence hearing will be relayed in places like Family Miracle Church, Foundation for Justice and Development Initiative –FJDI and Justice and Reconciliation Project –JRP in Gulu City, this has already elicited mixed reactions on what they expect of the outcome of the hearing from different locals in Northern Uganda.

60-year-old Florence Lawino, from Cwero Sub –County in Gulu was displaced in Paicho Internally Displaced Persons Camp recalls how her properties were looted by the rebels from the camp.

“In one of the LRA’s raids of the camp, my nephew’s mouth was cut [off] while we were made to watch before he was abducted and to date, I do not know whether he is dead or alive.” Lawino recollects her memories as she tries to hide her teary face

Despite killing the son of her brother in –law by the LRA rebels for failing to transport their luggage, Lawino wants Ongwen to be pardoned.

Vicky Auma, 27, and a mother of three who spent seven years in LRA captivity says she still remembers harrowing memories. She has never recovered from tortured that the rebels subjected her to when they burnt her legs, raped and impregnated her. She has to fend for her nine year –old son who has since school dropout due to lack of money.

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