International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

LRA Commander, Dominic Ongwen, at the ICC

Ongwen ICCYesterday, Dominic Ongwen made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court.  After doing a little research online in the news and on blogs, see if you can find some answers to the following questions.

Why is this case significant for the ICC? Why is it controversial that he is being charged for atrocity crimes? What have the reactions been from victims in Northern Uganda, and the Ugandan government?


9 responses to “LRA Commander, Dominic Ongwen, at the ICC

  1. jsqim January 27, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    The case is significant for the ICC for a number of reasons. First, Ongwen was indicted by the ICC in 2005, along with Joseph Kony and three other LRA lieutenants. This is significant because while other LRA fighters will be granted amnesty under an Ugandan amnesty law, his indictment denies amnesty status. Second, the trial is significant because Uganda agreed to an ICC trial even though Uganda has opposed ICC in the past. Third, Ongwen rose through the ranks in Kony’s army after being abducted as a child; Kony considered Ongwen to be somewhat of a model member of his forces. However, his story also makes his indictment and charges problematic.

    Many in northern Uganda, Ongwen’s home, have spoken against charges because for Ongwen, doing what he did under Kony’s army was for his survival. Had Ongwen not followed Kony’s orders to murder and abduct, many argue that he would not have been here to face trial. To quote an NPR article, Ongwen is being held responsible “for being alive.” Some argue that Ongwen’s trial constitutes double jeopardy as he was punished by his abudction, indoctrination and mistreatment. The Ugandan government may request the ICC to defer trial, or transfer Ongwen’s custody back to Uganda for a domestic trial, which depends on whether the ICC decides that Uganda is fit for holding such a trial.


  2. anisalarochelle January 28, 2015 at 9:14 am

    As we have discussed in class, Dominic Ongwen is one of the soldiers who served under Joseph Kony, when he was abducted at age 10. His actions that have been classified as committing a war crime, which includes violating laws of armed conflict such as torture and using child soldiers. Because of Ongwen’s high rank, he and Kony are the only soldiers being indicted, while the rest are being granted full amnesty. There were two main points of this story, which stuck out to me. The first was the fact that Joseph Kony singled out Ongwen and bred him from such a young age into a killer. If he had been abducted at an age older than ten, when he was less impressionable, he could have had the knowledge and education make the choice of amnesty before it was too late. Finally, Uganda does not have the necessary structures in place such as job stability and education, which would help prevent the creation of these violent organizations. For children like Ongwen, if presented with the option of education, his life work may have taken a different course.

  3. mtidona January 28, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    Dominic Ongwen’s indictment at the ICC is significant for the same reasons it is controversial. Ongwen is being prosecuted for extreme violence, abuse, and atrocity crimes, but at the same time he is a result of the very same crimes. As stated in the article Anisa commented, the court was created to prosecute those guilty of abducting children and forcing them to be child soldiers, which Ongwen is certainly guilty of. However, this is a complicated prosecution as Ongwen was a child soldier himself and suffered the same violence he ordered on others but instead his was at the hands of Joseph Kony himself. It is significant that out of the few top commanders indicted for child soldier war crimes, Ongwen is the only one who was a child soldier himself. Ongwen was taught violence as his way of life and survival since he was 10 years old, and was praised by Joseph Kony for his ruthlessness by being referred to as his “shining example”. I think Anisa brings up a good point about Ongwen’s age, which illustrates his lack of development since you are very impressionable at 10 years old. This is a major source of controversy in this trial because it raises the question of whether or not Ongwen should be held responsible for his war crimes when he was a victim at one point to the very same crimes and as a result he too was forced into this life. However, on the other hand, does his personal suffering and past excuse him from the countless abductions and violence he inflicted on other children who also did not have a choice and may never recover? Can his actions be justified by the psychological trauma he endured under Joseph Kony? It will be interesting to see how the court handles this specific case, as it appears many people from North Uganda, where Ongwen is from, criticize the indictment and seem to believe he should not be held accountable for he had no choice but to follow the LRA doctrine as a child soldier himself. They bring up the point that if Ongwen had not acted the way he did he would not even be here to indict because the LRA would have killed him. If Ongwen is not punished, does this set a precedent of almost a free pass for every perpetrator guilty of war crimes if they had also endured trauma or harm in their previous life?

  4. epatters2016 January 28, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    One issue with Dominic Ongwen’s case that has caused controversy is that, as Anisa mentioned above, he was abducted as a child to be a soldier for the LRA. He then eventually rose to be a top commander, only second to Kony himself. This trajectory creates a dichotomy which blurs the line between victim and perpetrator, as he is essentially both. But, he has, without a doubt, committed atrocity crimes in mass. One article stated that “Rights groups have said the fact Ongwen was initially himself a victim may be a mitigating factor, should he be found guilty and sentenced.” Although the story of his recruitment poses a complication, from the articles that I read, which seem to be different than the opinions mtidona read, victims and the international community have responded without sympathy. “Those without noses, lips or faces wants Dominic Ongwen tried as a senior commander in the LRA, not as a former child soldier,” said Victor Ochen, a former refugee and victim. The Ugandan and international communities are hoping that Ongwen’s capture will lead to a more concrete elimination of the LRA.

    The case is also especially important to the ICC because Ongwen is one of five senior LRA commanders indicted by the ICC in 2005. Two of the five have died in the last decade, leaving only Ongwen, Kony, and Okot Odhiambo. The surrender/capture of Ongwen is paramount because he has the potential to reveal the location of Joseph Kony himself. Whether he will reveal Kony’s location still remains to be seen, but he is the most direct link to Joseph Kony to ever be in the custody of the ICC, creating both hope and intrigue.

  5. ckeefe2016 January 29, 2015 at 9:23 am

    The title of an article posted on says it all; “Former LRA Commander Dominic Ongwen on Trial: Perpetrator or Victim?” Following his surrender to the Seleka Rebels in the Central African Republic, it was determined that Ongwen would be tried by the ICC for a total of seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. But why is the case so controversial? As my classmates have stated in their posts, Ongwen is the first person to be tried for the very same crimes for which he was a victim, as he was abducted by the LRA at age 10 and forced to become a child soldier. According to the Rome Statue, the ICC “does not provide the tools to prosecute those under the age of 18”, meaning that Ongwen will only be prosecuted for those crimes he has committed as an adult.
    Moving to the significance of the case, the arrival of Ongwen at the ICC opens the door for future investigation into the criminal activity of the LRA, headed by infamous leader Joseph Kony. Speculation that Ongwen may reveal Kony’s current whereabouts has many excited, as this trial can possibly be a pivotal step to stopping the continued existence of crimes against humanity that exist in Northern Uganda and other neighboring countries.
    Following his captivity by the Seleka, the Ugandan government had the ability to try Ongwen. Despite President Museveni’s opposition to the ICC, it was announced by Ugandan forces that ICC authorities would try Ongwen. As for the reaction of the people of Uganda, it is said to be of mixed opinion. While some feel advocate the ICC trial for Ongwen, other argue that he should be subject to the traditional system of Mato Oput, which involves meditation with clan leaders of those he has commited crimes against, along with confessing and begging for forgiveness.

  6. mjacobson565 January 29, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    The trial of Dominic Ongwen at the International Criminal Court has highlighted some major tensions in transitional justice, including whether reconciliation or prosecution (or both) are appropriate courses of action in response to widespread violations of human rights. Diane Orentlicher, in her article “Settling Accounts,” discussed the wishes of the Acholi leaders in 2004 (the largest victims of the LRA’s attacks in Uganda) to have ICC arrest warrants for the top five leaders of the LRA, including Joseph Kony, withdrawn. They supported instead traditional Acholi ceremonies of reconciliation and forgiveness. While international law has strongly supported the principle that amnesty should not be granted for those committing international crimes, it is also important that the victims and citizens of the country effected play a role in the creation of transitional justice programs. The ICC, states, and the international community must insure that a precedent is set to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity, but also that the desires of individuals and groups for justice and reconciliation are considered to craft the most effective response to these tragedies.

  7. natreid7 January 29, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    The recent arrest of Dominic Ongwen has proven to be a spark plug in the news of international law and transitional justice. This recent arrest is an especially tricky one because of the nature of the criminal. There has been much discussion on the fact that Ongwen is not only a perpetrator but also a victim—having been kidnapped at the age of ten and forced into the LRA. Alongside this tricky facet, there are differing opinions on what kind of trial Dominic Ongwen should have. Uganda has surrendered jurisdiction to the ICC and therefore the decision is in their hands, however there are differing opinions. Some local Alcholi community members want a Mato oput, a traditional justice system that grants amnesty to the criminal by mediation, forgiveness, and reparations. Other victims want a formal trial but in the territory that the crimes were committed. Others are content with having the trial in The Hague. These issues underlie primary transitional justice issues—who are the victims and who are the perpetrators, and what is the path of justice and who decides this path? There are no clear cut answers to these questions, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that there needs to be a higher order rule of law that governs and decides them, and the ICC has the potential to step up and be this higher order.

  8. oconnorg January 29, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    At the age of 10, Dominic Ongwen was certainly no war criminal. He was a victim of the ruthless Lord’s Resistance Army, and as an abducted child soldier he was taught in the ways of violence and atrocity, and he gained a great deal of skill as a guerrilla fighter in Uganda. Eventually, he transformed into a warlord. The case of Dominic Ongwen represents a gray area in the realm of transitional justice, as it blurs the line between victim and perpetrator. Can Ongqwen be held responsible for his crimes since he was initially a victim of a guerrilla war? Truth telling also plays an important role in Ongwen’s case. What crimes was Ongwen forced to carry out, what did his training consist of, and in what schemes of violence did he play an important and creative role? The ICC’s decision in the case of Dominic Ongwen will ultimately set a precedent in the world of international and transitional justice that hopefully creates clear cut distinctions between who is a perpetrator and who a victim in cases like Ongwen’s.

  9. mcurle15 January 30, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    The ICC was dealt with a major decision regarding justice when Uganda gave up entitlements to handle the case of Dominic Ongwen surrendering to Muslim rebels on January 5th of this year. This case is significant for the ICC because it once again displays the challenges that are going to be faced when establishing a just verdict for the crimes that Ongwen has committed. Ongwen, who had a $5 million reward for his capture, was charged for three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes while being a Brigade Commander of the LRA. I think the controversy regarding Ongwen’s atrocity crimes is that he is not only a perpetrator of many heinous crimes, but the victim as well due to the fact that he was abducted by Kony at the age of 10 and trained to kill innocent people. So while he should be held accountable for his atrocity crimes, an atrocity was done to him in the first place. A dispute in my view regarding Ongwen’s prosecution is that although he is seen as the “most responsible” for these atrocities, it leaves out any deterrence for lower ranking LRA soldiers that are carrying out these atrocity crimes as well. Will justice put on Ongwen deter other officials in the LRA from committing these crimes?

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