Today, 6 May 2021, Trial Chamber IX of the International Criminal Court (« ICC » or « the Court ») sentenced Dominic Ongwen to 25 years imprisonment following the Trial Judgment finding him guilty of a total of 61 crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in northern Uganda between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005. The period of his detention between 4 January 2015 and 6 May 2021 will be deducted from the total term of imprisonment imposed. The sentence may be appealed to the ICC Appeals Chamber by either party to the proceedings.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt read a summary of the Chamber’s decision. He stressed that the Chamber was confronted with a unique situation in this case. It was confronted with a perpetrator who willingly and lucidly caused enormous suffering to his victims. However, it was also confronted with a perpetrator who had himself experienced extreme suffering at the hands of the group of which he later became a leading member and commander.
The Chamber decided to give some mitigating value to the circumstances of Dominic Ongwen’s childhood, his abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at a very young age and his early activity in the LRA.
The Chamber rejected the arguments of the Defence, recalling its analysis of the evidence in the Judgment of 4 February 2021, and found that the mitigating circumstances of significantly diminished mental capacity and duress are not applicable.
The Chamber also rejected the Defence’s arguments regarding traditional justice mechanisms, noting that there is no possibility under the Rome Statute to replace a sentence of imprisonment with traditional justice mechanisms, or to incorporate traditional justice mechanisms into the sentence in any other way. It also noted that Acholi traditional justice mechanisms are not widely used to the extent that they would replace formal justice, and that they are restricted to members of the Acholi community, and thus their use would mean that some victims from other groups would be excluded. The Chamber emphasised that reconciliation in any form is a process in which the participation of victims is essential, and noted that it is clear that many victims of Dominic Ongwen’s crimes do not support the idea of traditional justice in this case, and that they have also criticised the fact that submissions in this regard were made to the Chamber without consulting them.
The Chamber analysed the seriousness of each of the 61 crimes for which Dominic Ongwen was convicted, finding several aggravating circumstances applicable to some or most of the crimes. Aggravating circumstances included particular cruelty, multiple victims, victims being particularly defenceless, politically motivated discrimination and discrimination against women. The Chamber imposed separate sentences for each crime, taking due account of the mitigating circumstances of childhood and the abduction of Dominic Ongwen by the LRA. The highest individual sentences were 20 years. The other sentences for the individual crimes were 14 or 8 years imprisonment.
In determining the total single sentence for all the crimes for which Dominic Ongwen was convicted, the Chamber declined to sentence Dominic Ongwen to life imprisonment, in view of his personal circumstances and in order to consider a concrete prospect for him to eventually rebuild his life.
The majority of the Chamber, composed of Judge Bertram Schmitt and Judge Péter Kovács, is of the opinion that this single total sentence adequately reflects the strongest condemnation by the international community of the crimes committed by Dominic Ongwen and recognises the considerable harm and suffering caused to the victims. At the same time, the majority considered that such a sentence recognised Dominic Ongwen’s unique personal history and ensured the prospect of his successful reintegration into society and, therefore, the concrete possibility of future reintegration. Judge Raul Cano Pangalangan joined a partly dissenting opinion on this issue as he would have sentenced Dominic Ongwen to a total of 30 years imprisonment.