ICC awards Shs 223bn compensation to victims of Ugandan warlord Dominic Ongwen

Dominic Ongwen trial resumes today at The Hague
Dominic Ongwen, a former senior commander in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

 The Hague, Netherlands | By Michael Wandati | The International Criminal Court (ICC) has awarded over €52 million ($56 million; Shs 223 billion) to the victims of Dominic Ongwen, a notorious warlord in Uganda.

The order covers almost 50,000 people, including former child soldiers and those born as a result of rapes and forced marriages.

Dominic Ongwen, once a brutal rebel commander within the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in Norway for numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Despite being forcibly abducted as a child and compelled to join the LRA, Ongwen later rose to a leadership position within the infamous rebel group.

In a reparation decision issued on Wednesday 28, February 2024, Trial Chamber IX judges emphasized that reparations will be collectively provided to victims due to the extensive scale of the atrocities and the high number of individuals affected.

The decision to compensate the victims of Dominic Ongwen outlines that approximately 49,772 direct and indirect victims of Ongwen’s crimes will benefit from the reparation order.

Throughout his trial, the court rejected Ongwen’s argument that he should be recognized as a victim as well, emphasizing his responsibility for the crimes committed by his rebel fighters in northern Uganda during the early 2000s.

Ongwen, was convicted by the ICC in 2021 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for a total of 61 crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Northern Uganda between July 1, 2002, and December 31, 2005.

Despite the conviction, the judges acknowledged that Dominic Ongwen is unable to financially compensate the victims and have directed the Trust Fund for Victims to cover the cost of compensation.

The ICC registry has been instructed to commence the identification and registration of victims for reparation in Northern Uganda within 30 days of the reparations decision.

The judges also appealed to ICC member states and well-wishers to provide financial support to the cash-strapped Trust Fund for Victims. Notably, Ongwen is the first senior LRA commander among the five indicted by the ICC in 2005 to be captured, tried, and sentenced for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Northern Uganda, while LRA leader Joseph Kony remains in hiding.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan sought authorization last year to hold a hearing to confirm charges against Kony in his absence. Kony is suspected of committing 36 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2002 and 2005 in northern Uganda. However, proceedings against Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo, and Vincent Otti, who were also implicated in arrest warrants, have been terminated by the ICC.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), founded in the late 1980s in Uganda with the aim of establishing a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments, was eventually expelled from the country in 2005.

Ugandan government put civilians in harm's way - Ongwen's Defense
Dominic Ongwen, was a senior commander in Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army ( LRA)

During a recent hearing, a detailed account of the brutal acts committed by Dominic Ongwen, a key figure in the LRA, served as a stark reminder of the widespread impact on communities. The atrocities included horrific sexual and gender-based crimes that characterized Ongwen’s reign of terror.

Judge Schmitt recounted disturbing incidents, such as soldiers raping a woman with a cooking stick while her husband was compelled to watch. Infants were callously discarded into bushes, left to perish because their cries hindered mothers carrying looted goods. Women and girls were systematically assigned to soldiers, becoming sexual slaves, many forced to bear children through rape or coerced marriages.

Children abducted and trained as child soldiers were also among the victims, some forced to kill others as a deterrent against escape attempts.

The attacks orchestrated by rebel fighters led by Ongwen on four displaced people’s camps in northern Uganda left tens of thousands suffering immense harm. Entire communities and families witnessed these brutal assaults, walking through villages strewn with corpses afterward.

Also Read: Former ICC employee accused of funding LRA rebel leader Kony

Acknowledging the enormity of the suffering, Judge Schmitt recognized that it would take time before any reparations were distributed. Priority would be given to the most vulnerable individuals with the greatest needs. Ongwen, declared indigent, will not contribute to the compensation; instead, the funds will come from the Trust Fund for Victims, relying on voluntary contributions from ICC member states and other donors.

The Trust Fund’s mandate is to fulfill reparation orders and provide physical and psychosocial rehabilitation or support to victims. During the hearing, it was revealed that the Trust currently lacks the full $56 million for reparations, prompting a call for support from countries, organizations, corporations, and individuals. A compensation plan is expected to be submitted to the ICC by September 2024.

Situated in The Hague, the ICC was established to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The court views reparations as a symbol of hope and resilience for war-ravaged communities, demonstrating its commitment to restorative justice.