The 'Ongwen split' - victim or perpetrator?

Like Ugandan forces searching for LRA rebels
Monday, January 12, 2015 - 12:07

By Niklas Jakobsson

The surrender and subsequent handover to Uganda of LRA commander Dominic Ongwen last week has raised questions on justice and reparations on one of the most complex legal cases that the International Criminal Court might take on. Ongwen was himself abducted as a pre-pubescent child by the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced into a world of violence. But after swiftly climbing the ranks of Joseph Kony’s militant group, Ongwen stands accused of orchestrating countless acts of rape, enslavement, abduction of children, maiming, mutilation, the murder of civilians, torture, inhuman treatment and the burning of villages.

There are currently five outstanding warrants for LRA leaders, including Ongwen and Kony, but it is unclear whether Uganda will prosecute Ongwen nationally, hand him over to the ICC or possibly even let him walk free.

In a piece for Justice Hub, Samuel Egadu Okiror raised several questions that will become increasingly relevant in the next few weeks.

“Let me ask a question: if Ongwen hadn’t been abducted as a teenager and indoctrinated, would he have joined the rebellion willingly and committed the atrocities and crimes he is being accused of? Like many children still in LRA captivity, he had no choice but to obey and execute orders. If he didn’t, would he still be alive by now?”

But a trip to The Hague for Ongwen would lead to one of most obscure situations in the history of the court, Okiror points out.

“Ironically, Ongwen became the first person in ICC history to be charged with the same crimes [war crimes and crimes against humanity] of which he is also a victim.”

Justice Hub took to social media and asked the affected population, Ugandan nationals, what they believed would be the best course of action. Not only were the same questions raised as Okiror pointed out, but more concretely, people were split on what should happen to Ongwen. Several commentators were quick to put Ongwen in the category of ‘victim’, arguing for him to be forgiven by the people of Uganda.

“Ongwen didn't make a choice to leave home and execute his people. He didn't make that choice, one sure choice he has made is to come home. Personally I forgive him for killing my uncle. He shd b#4given”.

“He was a victim of LRA activity at the age of ten, brainwashed and again he came out voluntarily. according to legal experts, he is in the equilibrum.”

“Ogwen Was Abducted At The Age Of 12yrs On His Way 2 Skul. He Was Very Young That He Couldn't Resist Orders From Kony. Therefore, Ugandans Should Legitmate Correct Alternative To Deal With Ogwen. In Acholi Land, We Have Forgiven Ogwen.”

Luke Moffett gave a legal analysis of what would probably happen to a ’victim’ argument if Ongwen were to end up in the docks of the ICC.

“In the trial, Ongwen may argue that as a former child soldier, he was under duress to commit atrocities. However, as an adult commander this defence is unlikely to work, since to prove crimes were committed under duress, a defendant has to demonstrate they were a “proportionate response” to that duress. Crimes against humanity of mass killings and enslavement are unlikely to meet this standard.”

But for a lot of people who have commented, forgiveness is not even an option. Justice, served nationally or by the ICC, is arguably a must.

“Forgiving him will prompt many people to do such bad things thinking they will be forgiven. Let him be charged.”

“He should never get amnesty for a crime against humanity. Take him to the ICC although Uganda wanted to pull [out] of the ICC, the only comptent court to handle such case. All those who commit war crimes should be brought to book and taken to Hague.”

But will the ICC even be a factor in the case against Ongwen? Mark Kersten was quick to point out that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is a fierce opponent of the ICC. What impact might that have on a potential Ongwen case heading to The Hague?

“In recent months, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has emerged as the single most virulent opponent of the Court – and not just on the African continent. He has gone so far as to declare that African states should ‘quit’ the ICC. Given Museveni’s nasty rhetoric towards the Court, it seems virtually impossible to imagine that he would cooperate with the ICC in surrendering Ongwen.”

Heading back to social media, few people are outspoken on where Ongwen should be prosecuted – but the few people who express an opinion are evenly split between the national court and the ICC. No matter what the future might hold for Dominic Ongwen, the debate on whether he is a victim or a perpetrator, or both, will continue.


  • Should Dominic Ongwen be prosecuted nationally or by the ICC?
  • Should Ongwen be given amnesty and forgiven?
  • Do you consider Ongwen to be a victim or perpetrator – or partially both?

Do you want to join the conversation? Find us on Facebook and Twitter or in the comments section below.

Earlier today, NTV Uganda NTV an audio recording, featuring Dominic Ongwen. 

Lead image: Ugandan soldiers on patrol searching for the LRA (Photo: Michel Sibilboni/AFP)

The Weekly Hubble features the most popular or controversial international justice story of the past week and reactions on social media to the news. 




Thursday, September 17, 2015 - 18:10

Ongwen is clealy both a victim and a perpetrator. But it cannot be the case that you shield yourself from any responsibility because of the fact that you were abducted as a child. He bears responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed as an adult. The victims of these crimes deserve his punishment.

Monday, January 26, 2015 - 15:47
mohamed ismael arafa

Save our souls in Egypt, rescue the Egyptian females, helpppp

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 - 03:57