Northern Uganda war victims welcome ICC ruling on former rebel commander

International Criminal Court (ICC)
International Criminal Court (ICC)

Victims of a two-decade long rebellion in northern Uganda said that justice has been done after a former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commander was convicted on Thursday of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Judges at the Hague-based ICC on Thursday found Dominic Ongwen guilty of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern Uganda in a 20-year war raging until 2006.

Ongwen, a former child soldier who rose through the rank and file of the LRA, was among the five top commanders of the outfit who were indicted by the ICC. The other three are said to have died apart from rebel leader Joseph Kony who is still in hiding.

Ongwen was found guilty of alleged attacks on the civilian population, murder, torture, persecution, forced marriage, sexual slavery, enslavement, rape, pillage destruction of property and recruitment of children under the age of 15 to participate in the hostilities.

“We are happy as victims about the verdict. At least justice has been done and served,” James Okello Omona, victim’s mobilizer in Odek village in Omoro district, told Xinhua in a phone interview. “We want to know how many years they are going to put Ongwen in jail.

He committed a lot of atrocities. He has just been found guilty of 61 counts,” said Omona. “We are wondering when they will start compensating us,” Omona said, adding that since justice has been done now, victims of the war that have left 1.9 million people homeless and tens of thousands dead, need to be compensated.

The court ruling was screened live from the Hague to villages in northern Uganda — where the war was, and in the capital Kampala.

Brian Kalenge, a lecturer in the faculty of law at Uganda Christian University, told reporters via a livestream in Kampala that the ruling is historic.

“This is a very historic moment that finally a first verdict relating to the crimes committed by the LRA in northern Uganda has come to bear fruit,” said Kalenge.

“(The) ICC indicted several LRA commanders way back in early 2000 and it has taken several years for judgment to be rendered, this being the first case,” he added.

The ruling is also a step in terms of addressing psychological effects of that war, according to Kalenge. “There can be no peace without justice.

It’s very important that for us to look at peace, we need to ensure justice has been served,” said Kalenge. Kalenge added that the ruling sets a precedent that can be followed when dealing with cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Court said the case has been concluded now, and a phase dedicated to the reparations to victims will be opened. It also ruled that the verdict may be appealed by either party to the proceedings within 30 days after the notification of the judgment.

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