The Curious Case of Dominic Ongwen: Child Soldier turned LRA Leader
January 30, 2015
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As we discussed in class, Dominic Ongwen was abducted at age 10, and forced to become a child soldier in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. As the global Kony 2012 campaign asserted, Kony’s LRA thrived off of the kidnapping and manipulation of many young children—forcing hundreds of impressionable youths to commit heinous crimes on behalf of Kony, who is portrayed as “a godly person” (Invisible Children). As many of these blog posts contend, Ongwen’s adult actions (which he will be tried for by the ICC) consist of seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, to echo the sentiments of many of my classmates, “Ongwen is the first person to be tried for the very same crimes for which he was a victim,” introducing an inherent complexity to his case (ckeefe2016’s post). Will it be possible for the ICC to rectify that fact moving forward, and to determine a truly appropriate sentence for him? Will they be able to determine if Ongwen was really responsible for his actions, or if his extensive childhood trauma as a child soldier has forced him to this terrible fate?
Today, data has been collected from “87 war-torn counties,” leading to an estimate that “300,000-500,000 children are involved with fighting forces as child soldiers” (Harvard School of Public Health). These children are forced to commit unspeakable atrocities from age 7, and are even sometimes “injected with drugs to curb their inhibitions against committing violence” (Harvard School of Public Health). According to the Irish Forum for Global Health, “even when being compared to other children that lived through civil wars and have witnessed the brutality of war, former child soldiers suffer from markedly higher levels of psychological disorders” (IFGH). All three of the articles cited above assert that it is critical for child soldiers in the post-conflict environment to receive treatment, in order to overcome the enduring scars from their traumatic experiences. Perhaps the most problematic discrepancy in these international justice cases is the divide between former child soldiers that receive amnesty and mental health care, while others are prosecuted for their crimes. Ongwen is undoubtedly responsible for countless heinous atrocities he committed as Kony’s right-hand man, and should rightfully be punished to the fullest extent of the law for his wrongdoings. However, it becomes troublesome to think that he may have received amnesty if he had not been manipulated from such an early age. Further, this case poses many interesting problems due to the difficulty of assessing the state of mind of Ongwen when he committed these unspeakable atrocities and due to the lack of relevant jurisprudence for the ICC.