This is the final post in JiC’s symposium on the trial of Dominic Ongwen and the prosecution of former child soldiers. Disclaimer: this is not a real press release. For a list of the posts written to date, please see here. Thanks for reading!
DISCLAIMER: this is not a real press release.
Today, 21 April 2016, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) spoke to members of the media and issued a statement regarding the prosecution of Dominic Ongwen. Mr. Ongwen was a senior rebel commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and is currently facing seventy counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. A warrant for his arrest was issued in 2005 and he was surrendered to the Court in January 2015.
“First, we must acknowledge that prosecuting anyone who has been a child soldier is a tragedy but also a necessary evil,” Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said. “No one should ever have to endure the hardship and violence that derives from being a child soldier. Yet, at the same time, it is not possible for my office, or any court for that matter, to simply ignore the atrocities committed by perpetrators who have previously been victims of the same or similar types of crimes.”
The Chief Prosecutor further stated that she understood that not all people in northern Uganda agreed with the prosecution of individuals who had previously been abducted as children. “We sought out to make a positive difference in northern Uganda,” said Bensouda. “My office fully recognizes that, ten years after five arrest warrants were issued for the top leadership of the LRA, having only one individual in custody, a former child soldier, has not come close to meeting the expectations of victims and survivors of LRA violence. I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm our position that we will continue to investigate any and all LRA crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court and also remind all parties, including the government of Uganda and its military, that further investigations and prosecutions are within the mandate of my office.”
Bensouda added that “for a number of reasons, many of which are outside of the control of the Court, the expectations of people in northern Uganda have not been met.” In order to avoid widening any expectation gap in the future, the Chief Prosecutor expressed her office’s intention to prosecute Ongwen both expeditiously and effectively. “Despite the fact that we charged Mr. Ongwen with seventy counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, my office is committed to efficient proceedings. Barring any unforeseen or significant obstacles in the coming months, we will rest our case no later than three years from the beginning of the trial. Mr. Ongwen’s defence is aware of our intentions and have likewise committed to an efficient and fair trial. Let me be absolutely clear: the burden is on my office, on the judges, and on the defence — and not the victims and survivors of northern Uganda — to ensure that proceedings are efficient. We will work tirelessly to meet that expectation.”
The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) further confirmed that it will take numerous steps in the coming months and years with regards to the question of prosecuting former child soldiers who, as adults, have perpetrated atrocities under the jurisdiction of the Court. The OTP announced that it will create a taskforce to conduct research into the prosecution of child soldiers. It will also request the Assembly of States Parties to establish an expert group of practitioners and researchers to assess and analyze how best to proceed in cases involving child soldiers as well as the linkages between the emergence of victims of international crimes as perpetrators. As part of this commitment, the OTP will author a public policy paper, based on their prosecutorial strategies and experiences, assessing the nexus between victims and perpetrators, and outlining a consistent and coherent approach to the prosecution of child soldiers.
The OTP added that, following the verdict in the Ongwen trial, it would work with all organs of the Court to establish and promote programs aimed at preventing the conscription and use of child soldiers. If appropriate, it would support efforts by Court staff to work with Ongwen in order to bring attention to the scourge of child soldiering. “Our prosecution should not be understood simply as an effort to hold one man accountable for his crimes, but an opportunity to confront the contradictions and controversies of being a child soldier,” said Bensouda.
Finally, Bensouda announced that the OTP would support, at the appropriate time, the provision of ICC reparations to rehabilitation centres and schools tasked with the psycho-social recovery of child soldiers in LRA-affected areas. “If it is true, and evidence suggests as much, that victims of violent crimes are statistically more likely to subsequently become perpetrators of such crimes, then we have an obligation to focus our resources on stemming the possibility and potential of child soldiers later emerging as perpetrators of violence. We may not be able to stop child soldiers from being conscripted. But we can help those that escape the clutches of violent rebel groups and militaries. We believe strongly that deterrence, as a by-product of the Court’s work, is possible. But in order to achieve any deterrent effect in cases of victim-perpetrators, we must focus on ensuring that there are sufficient resources and programmes to support those child soldiers who emerge from ‘the bush’. We must focus on measures that ensure that victims are rehabilitated and reintegrated into their communities, rather than transformed into perpetrators of further violence. We can do our part. And we will.”