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ICC Hands 25 Years in Jail to Former Ugandan Rebel Commander

By Okech Francis

The International Criminal Court has handed a 25-year jail term for Dominic Ongwen a former commander of the notorious rebel group which operated in northern Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Ongwen was convicted on 61 counts of crimes which include murder, abductions, rape, attacks on civilian settlements, pillaging and destruction of properties among others.

“In light of the gravity of the crimes that you committed, the applicable mitigating and aggravating circumstances, and your specific individual circumstances, the chamber sentences you to a period of imprisonment of 25 years as a joint sentence for the 61 crimes of which you were found guilty,” ICC Judge Bertram Schmitt said while reading out the sentence on May 6.

Six years “for the period of 4th January 2015 and today 6th May 2021” in which Ongwen has been in custody will be deducted from the jail term, Schmitt said.

“After Dominic Ongwen has served two-third of his sentence, the court shall review the sentence to determine in light of certain criteria whether it should be reduced,” he said.

The LRA, Africa’s most brutal rebel group wreaked havoc including killing civilians, raping women, forcefully conscripting abducted children into its ranks among other grave crimes.

They also operated in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Its leader Joseph Kony, himself indicted by the ICC is still at large.

Three other indicted including Vincent Oti, Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo have been established killed.

The 46-year-old Ongwen was abducted by the group as a 9-year-old child while on his way to Abili Primary School in Koro on the outskirt of Gulu city.

His defense team at the ICC argued that this could be a reason for which he should be exonerated or at least given a reduced jail term.

While they urged for a maximum of ten years in jail at the most, the prosecution had called for Ongwen to receive a life imprisonment.

According to Judge Schmitt, Ongwen’s case confronted the chamber “with a unique situation,” in that he is “a perpetrator who fully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims” and as well “a perpetrator himself had previously endured extreme suffering himself at the hands of a group which he later became a prominent member and leader.”

Acknowledging the very young age at while Ongwen was abducted, Judge Schmitt however noted that Ongwen was fully responsible for his acts as a rebel leader.

“The fact that Dominic Ongwen did not at first chose to be part of the LRA but was abducted and integrated into it when he was still a child in no way justifies or rationalizes the heinous crimes he willfully chose to commit as a fully responsible adult,” Schmitt said.

ICC examined Ongwen’s case basing on attacks and atrocities committed on four Internally Displaced People’s Camps in northern Uganda including Pajule, Odek, Lukodi and Abok IDP camps.

Crimes he is convicted of included sexual slavery, rape, forced marriage and forced pregnancy, the crimes of enslavement and torture as well as sexual and gender-based crimes and the crimes of conscription of children under the age of 15 and their use to participate actively in the hostilities.

Others included attacks against the civilian population, attempted murder, enslavement and torture in the context of the attacks on and the crimes of outrages upon personal dignity as well as the crimes of pillaging and destruction of property committed during the attacks on the four IDPs.

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