Ongwen transfer raises doubts over Uganda's ability to hold war crimes trials

21 February 2015 by Samuel Egadu Okiror, Kampala (Uganda)

Uganda's decision to support the transfer of Dominic Ongwen [IJT-174] to the International Criminal Court (ICC), instead of trying the notorious Lord's Resistance Army commander at home, casts a shadow on the county's ability to hold domestic war crimes trials.

LRA child memorial (Photo: Flickr/Josh Zakary)
Image caption: 
LRA child memorial (Photo: Flickr/Josh Zakary)

After Ongwen’s capture, many Ugandans hoped the former protégé of LRA warlord Joseph Kony would be domestically prosecuted before the specially set up International Crimes Division (ICD) [IJT-164].

The country had the ability to try Ongwen, but chose not to “because of the nature of crimes he committed,” Peter Nyombi, Uganda’s attorney general, told IJT. The atrocities extended beyond Uganda, into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), he explained. Plus, Uganda had already referred the LRA situation to The Hague, so “we decided ICC was the best for the prosecution of Ongwen,” Nyombi said.

The ICD was established in 2008 to hold national trials for serious offences like war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It was part of efforts to implement the ultimately rejected Juba peace agreement reached that same year between the government and the LRA. 

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