The ruling by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on a former rebel commander has drawn mixed reactions from victims in northern Uganda, where the rebellion left tens of thousands of people dead and over 1.4 million others homeless.
The ICC in The Hague on Thursday sentenced Dominic Ongwen, a former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commander, to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in northern Uganda.
Judges handed down the sentence to Ongwen following a trial in February, in which the ex-child soldier was found guilty of 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between July 1, 2002 and Dec. 31, 2005.
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.
“As victims, we are so disappointed with the jail sentence given to Ongwen. The victims wanted Ongwen to be in prison for life,” James Omona, victims’ mobilizer in Odek village in northern district of Omoro, told Xinhua in a phone interview.
“He was a notorious LRA who committed a lot of atrocities. The judges should have given Ongwen a life sentence. We believe justice hasn’t been done,” Omona added.
The court ruling was screened live from The Hague to various villages in northern Uganda — where the war took place, and in the capital Kampala. “The judgment sends a message that perpetrators of the crime will be held accountable.
It doesn’t matter how long,” said Sarah Kihika Kasande, head of office of the International Center for Transitional Justice in Uganda, in a live television analysis.
The period of his detention between Jan. 4, 2015 and May 6, 2021 will be deducted from the total time of imprisonment imposed on him. Brian Kalenge, a lecturer with the faculty of law at Uganda Christian University, said he believes that “the 25 years is justifiable.”
“You know the background of this case — he was also abducted as a child; he was forced to do these hostilities,” Kalenge said.
The sentence may be appealed before the ICC Appeals Chamber by either party to the proceedings, according to the court.