Human Rights & Public Liberties

Human Rights & Public Liberties

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021

Reactions to ICC sentencing Ongwen to 25 years

Published on: 6 May, 2021
Dominic Ongwen

Dominic Ongwen

On Thursday the International Criminal Court (ICC) sentenced former Ugandan child soldierDominic Ongwen to 25 years of imprisonment.

In February the court found him guilty on a total of 61 crimes comprising crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed in Northern Uganda. The individial crimes included sexual slavery, rape and child abductions.

In the verdict in February the court found that Ongwen personally ordered his soldiers to carry out mass killings of more than 130 civilians at refugee camps between 2002 and 2005.

Civilians were locked in their homes and burned to death or beaten during the killings, while mothers were made to transport the LRA’s loot, forcing them to abandon their infant children by the roadside.

Child Soldier

Ongwen was abducted at the age of 9 and forced to become a child soldier.

ICC Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said judges had to weigh Ongwen’s brutality with his own tortured past as a schoolboy abducted by the LRA when deciding on a sentence.

Prosecutors had asked for a 20-year prison term for Ongwen, saying his background as a child soldier justified a lower sentence than the sentence of 30 years to life which is the maximum sentence the ICC can impose.

Commenting to Al Jazeera on the sentencing Kevin Jon Heller Professor at the University of Copenhagen said: ‘Given the seriousness of the crimes and their sheer number, it is neither surprising nor unfair that Ongwen received such a long sentence. It is also good to see the majority reducing his sentence because of the trauma he experienced when he was a child soldier.’

‘That said, it’s a bit troubling that the majority imposed a sentence that was even longer than the 20 years the Prosecutor asked for — and that the dissenting judge would have imposed a 30 year sentence’ added Heller.

Mark Drumbl, Professor at Washington and Lee University said to Al Jazeera: ‘This is a heavy sentence for his very unique circumstances. He inflicted a lot of pain on others but his individual circumstances -being a young boy forcibly kidnapped into the LRA – are unlike any ICC convict yet did not meaningfully weigh in his sentence.’