Senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen, who surrendered Tuesday in the Central African Republic, should be transferred to the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Ongwen was indicted by the ICC in 2005 after Ugandan President Museveni requested an ICC investigation into potential atrocity crimes by the LRA in Northern Uganda. Now with Ongwen's surrender, some are calling for him to face trial or receive amnesty in Uganda. The ICC's complementarity principle is critical in this scenario. Ongwen should be transferred to The Hague, where Uganda is free to challenge the admissibility of the case, prompting the ICC to examine whether or not Uganda is willing and able to carry out an independent, thorough and fair investigation and trial related to Ongwen's charges.
Ugandan human rights voices reflect a diversity of views on this issue. Victor Ochen, founding director of local human rights organization, African Youth Initiative Network, and survivor of LRA violence, said, "Generally, it’s quite obvious that people need justice. At this point, whose justice? For the rebel or for the victims of Ongwen's barbaric acts?"
Some religious and political leaders from northern Uganda have expressed that Ongwen should receive amnesty. Uganda’s Amnesty Act has been an important tool to help spur defections from the LRA. Amnesty is likely not appropriate, however, for high-level individuals charged with grave war crimes and crimes against humanity. Prosecuting Ongwen is not mutually exclusive to a range of critical transitional justice mechanisms that are sorely needed for victims in Northern Uganda. But victims also deserve to see justice served.
It is important to recognize that Ongwen was abducted as a child soldier at age 10, and thus is both a victim and alleged perpetrator,
At present, it is important for Ongwen to provide any information he may have on LRA leader Joseph Kony’s whereabouts and to help provide defection messages to current LRA fighters. The LRA is still active, so such information and messaging is critically important. Visits by his family members could form an important part of this defection messaging.
Finally, for sustainable peace to take root, greater support to a local justice and reconciliation process in northern Uganda is needed. The Ugandan army is accused of committing atrocities in northern Uganda, yet these allegations have yet to prompt adequate investigation. Uganda and donor governments must also prioritize support for victims and war-affected committees in northern Uganda and other LRA affected areas.
Photo credit: AFP/Interpol