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What Next After Ongwen’s Sentencing?

Ongwen 45, was found guilty of 61 crimes comprising crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Northern Uganda between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005 while serving as a brigade commander of the LRA’s Sinia Brigade.
Dominic Ongwen.

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A panel of three judges at the International Criminal Court-ICC on Thursday sentenced former Lord’s Resistance Army-LRA commander Dominic Ongwen to 25 years of imprisonment.

Ongwen 45 was found guilty of 61 crimes comprising crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Northern Uganda between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005 while serving as a brigade commander of the LRA’s Sinia Brigade.

The Thursday joint sentencing delivered by presiding judge Bertram Schmitt was in mitigation with justification to the circumstances of his childhood, abduction by the LRA at an early age and sufferings while in captivity in the hands of the LRA.

A former child soldier turned rebel warlord, Ongwen commanded the notorious Sinia Brigade that was responsible for attacks in the Internally Displaced People’s Camps in Pajule in Pader District, Abok in Oyam, Lukodi in Gulu district and Odek in Omoro District.

The sentencing came nearly five years since the world court commenced the trial of Ongwen in the Netherlands, thousands of kilometres away from the centre of atrocities committed in Northern Uganda.

A section of victims of the atrocities and clerics in Acholi have welcomed the conviction of Ongwen describing it as a step towards healing.

Will Ongwen serve his full jail sentence?

According to Maria Mabinty Kamara, the ICC Outreach Officer for Uganda during the period of Ongwen’s detention between 4 January 2015 and 6 May 2021 will be deducted from the total time of imprisonment imposed on him.

She says the sentence may be appealed before the Appeals Chamber by either the Prosecution or the Defence.

Kamara says the Defence team of Ongwen and the Prosecution may appeal the sentencing judgment within 30 days.

Under Article 110(3) of the Rome Statute, "when the person has served two-thirds of the sentence; the Court shall review the sentence to determine whether it should be reduced."

Where will Ongwen serve his jail sentence from?

Kamara notes that if the sentence becomes final either through an appeal or by not appealing it, Ongwen will be transferred to a prison in a state designated by the ICC Presidency, having heard the views of Ongwen.

“The State for enforcement of sentences will be selected from a list that of states that have signed an agreement with the ICC, indicating their willingness to accept the sentenced person,” she told Uganda Radio network in an interview Friday.

Will victims of Ongwen’s atrocities get reparation?

Kamara notes that reparations proceedings may start concurrently with an appeal about the guilty verdict against Ongwen.

She however says if at the end of the appeal Ongwen is found innocent, proceedings at the court will end, including any Reparations proceedings that had started.

“If the appeal confirms the conviction of Ongwen, the Reparations phase may continue or start,” says Kamara.

On 6 May 2021, Trial Chamber IX issued an order for submissions on reparations. Among the key issues the parties, registry, and the Trust Fund for victims [TFV] are instructed to make submissions by Monday 6 September include the need for the Chamber to consider additional principles on reparations, apart from those already established by the consistent jurisprudence of the Court.

Others are estimated total number of the direct and indirect victims of the crimes for which Ongwen was convicted, who may be potentially eligible for reparations, any legal and factual issues relevant to the identification of eligible victims and any victims or groups of victims who may require prioritization in the reparations process among others.

A total of 4,095 victims were granted the right to participate in the proceedings against Ongwen and were represented by two teams of lawyers.

In Pader District, a section of victims of Ongwen’s led attack on Pajule IDP camp in October 2003 however, say the reparation process should be expedited.

Richard Loklit, a resident of Awalmon ward in Ogole Parish, Bongtiko Sub-county in Pader District says the court should determine genuine victims of the war to enable them to get reparation. Loklit says he was abducted in 2003 when LRA rebels attacked Pajule IDP camp adding that his brother with whom he was abducted died in captivity.

He says such victims should be remembered with schools, churches build in memories of the atrocities events they witnessed.

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Nelson Abola, a victim of LRA attack on Lukodi IDP camp in Gulu District says that there is a need to speed up the reparation process for victims who have suffered in the various attacks in the region.

Abola says although monetary compensation for property lost is vital for the victims of Ongwen’s crimes, there is also a need to consider supporting them through psychosocial support to heal trauma cases.

“I welcome the conviction and sentencing of Ongwen, but I request that this process of reparation should now not take long as the trail,” He says.

Ongwen has been facing trial at The Hague-based Court since December 2016, slightly a year after his transfer to the court's detention in January 2015 from Central African Republic-CAR.

Ongwen was among five top LRA commanders the ICC issued an arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Others are elusive LRA leader Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti who remain at large, Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo have both been confirmed dead and the ICC Judges have terminated proceedings against them.

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