Dominic Ongwen: ICC Confirms 25-Year “Unfair” Jail Term For Former LRA Commander

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The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has confirmed a 25-year jail term for Mr. Dominic Ongwen, Former Commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel outfit that terrorized Uganda for almost 40 years.

Mr. Dominic Ongwen had appealed his conviction and sentencing by the ICC’s Trial Chamber IX for 61 crimes ranging from crimes against humanity, war crimes that the rebel outfit committed in Northern Uganda between 1st July, 2002 and 31st December, 2005.

Ongwen challenged the sentence of 25 years in prison that the Trial Chamber handed him on 6th May, 2021 for the crimes.

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In a unanimous decision delivered on Thursday, 15th December, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court, presided over by Judge Luz del Carmen Ibanez Carranza, tossed out some 90 grounds Mr Dominic Ongwen had based on to challenge his conviction.


Dominic Ongwen himself is a victim of LRA’s crimes having been abducted by the rebel group at age 9 on his way to school/ Photo: BBC

The Judges who also included Piotr Hofmanski, Reine Alapini-Gansou, Gocha Lordkipanidze and Uganda’s Solomy Balungi Bossa refused to agree with Ongwen’s arguments that the Trial Court violated his right to a fair hearing through a number of procedural errors in the handling of his case.

 

Ongwen, who himself was abducted by the LRA at age 9 and thereby indoctrinated into its terrorist ideologies sought to downplay his individual responsibility for the crimes citing duress and mental illness.

He also contested the Court’s interpretation of forced marriages and forced pregnancy being among gender and sexual based crimes.

While acknowledging that some of his arguments were complex and novel before the International Criminal Court, the Judges nonetheless proceeded to confirm his guilt for the crimes.

“ Having considered all relevant arguments raised by the Defence in its Appeal Brief, the Appeals Chamber finds that the Defence failed to show and the Appeals Chamber did not identify any error in the Trial Chamber’s findings concerning; Mr. Ongwen’s right to a fair trial and other human rights violations, other specific evidentiary assessments and findings, Mr Ongwen’s individual criminal responsibility as indirect perpetrator and as indirect co-perpetrator, sexual and gender-based crimes, grounds for excluding criminal responsibility ie mental illness or defect and finally cumulative convictions.” the Judges ruled.


Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court
The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court sat on Thursday, 15th to seal Dominic Ongwen’s Fate./ Photo: ICC

When it came to the sentence of 25 years in prison, while majority of the Judges confirmed it, Judge Luz del Carmen Ibanez Carranza, the Presiding Judge dissented with her colleagues and ruled that she would have reversed the sentence and sent the matter back to the Trial Court for a new sentence.

The Judge agreed with Mr. Dominic Ongwen that there were instances of double counting of certain factors leading up to the determination of the sentence.

Judge Carranza found that this happened in relation to 20 out of the 61 individual sentences imposed.

In her opinion, the Trial Court made a material legal error that affected the total sentence of 25 years.

Judge Carranza further explored the issue of Mr. Dominic Ongwen’s childhood experience in the mitigation of his jail term as well as the question of the purpose of sentencing and its relevance in Ongwen’s case.

“ There has been a clear legal error in the reasoning of the Trial Chamber. It attached weight twice to the number of victims, as part of the gravity assessment and as an aggravating factor in relation to 20 out of the 61 individual sentences imposed on Mr. Ongwen. This resulted in unfairness in the sentencing proceedings, causing prejudice to Mr. Ongwen and ultimately led to an incorrect exercise of discretion by the Trial Chamber as a consequence of which the Trial Chamber imposed a disproportionate joint sentence. The error had thus a material impact on the individual sentences imposed and in particular on the ultimate joint sentence of 25 years of imprisonment; The most appropriate relief in this case is to reverse the joint sentence imposed and to remand the matter for the Trial Chamber to impose a new sentence” Judge Carranza ruled in her dissenting opinion.

Nonetheless, we go with the majority. So, 25 years behind bars for Dominic Ongwen it is.

The Appeals Chamber ruling on both the conviction and sentence is final.

According to ICC, processes for reparation to Mr. Ongwen’s victims are ongoing.



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