Victims and perpetrators often blurred when it comes to child soldiers
LRA commander’s trial brings debate on what justice should look like
Because so much of our project work has been centered in Uganda and establishing a platform for child soldier reintegration with our partners, we have been monitoring the story of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) commander Dominic Ongwen and his pending trial since turning himself into the ICC earlier this year.
On the surface, it would seem cut and dry as to what the right ‘justice’ is for someone who killed on behalf of Kony and the LRA. But as this article points out, are there not special considerations to an individual’s actions when they themselves were abducted as a child and forced into becoming a soldier? Like many young combatants and especially those swept up in the Kony regime, the proposition becomes, ‘kill or be killed’.
There are those closer to the situation than us who argue for reconciliation and believe that this is the only way for regions and countries to move on and truly heal from the deep wounds left by conflict and that the children forced to grow up only knowing the horrible realities of war deserve forgiveness. As the retired Bishop Onono-Onweng says in this piece, the LRA conflict moved beyond Uganda’s borders many years ago, and calls for everyone to move on instead of calling for vengeance and tearing open old wounds. He goes on to state:
“Let life flow, my friend,” says Onono-Onweng, while he swings his arms in the air. “Look at the Nile – when its water hits a rock, it always flows on in a new direction.”
Another individual who has been on the frontlines of this issue – and one of our key partners in our project work, Bishop Ochola, has also argued for careful consideration in the case of Dominic Ongwen. Here from the official statement from the Bishop’s organization (ARLPI) is the framework that he wishes adopted as this case moves forward:
We appeal to the government of Uganda as well as to the international community to sincerely consider the situations of our formerly abducted innocent children of Northern Uganda, like, Ongwen Dominic, whose human rights and human dignity have been grossly violated by the LRA for all these years in captivity with LRA. What should be done to them in order to restore their human broken relationships during the war of insurgency. What must be done to them in order to realize the genuine accountability for all that happened during the war of insurgency. Who did what needs to be revealed and made known publicly, as a mechanism for healing and national reconciliation.
The religious leaders of Acholi sub-region have the compassion and the commitment to see that real justice is done to all our unfortunate innocent children, like, Ongwen Dominic, who have become the victims of circumstances, as a result of the war of insurgency in Northern Uganda. We are, therefore, willing and ready to offer ourselves, as spiritual leaders, to stand for Ongwen Dominic in the Hague in the Netherlands, to see that real justice is done to him and many others who are still languishing in pains, sufferings, and poverty, especially in Acholi sub-region.
LRA commander Dominic Ongwen (blue shirt) turning himself in to government officials earlier this year.