IL Newswire

To Punish or to Pardon? Perspectives on Accountability and Forgiveness in the Case of Dominic Ongwen

There is currently a case open in the International Criminal Court against Dominic Ongwen, a former commander in the Lord's Resistance Army. Commencing in 2016, the case against him charges 70 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. 

The article published in the International Justice Monitor provides two perspectives representing public opinion about whether or not Ongwen should be punished or pardoned. The case for punishment resides in the belief of accountability over amnesty. Those who prefer a pardon for Ongwen cite his abduction as a child as a reason for amnesty; his subsequent actions in the LRA stemmed from this abduction. 

To Punish:

"Joyce, a CSO representative working with Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) said, 'Given what he did in northern Uganda, his background is not very good and so the people who have been victims of his actions may not let him go free even if he is acquitted, so I think he should be tried so as to be on the safer side. My fear is that if Ongwen is left to come out free, people will lose the trust they have in the international justice system.'"

In addition, many of those who favor punishment feel that a trial would act as a deterrent for other LRA commanders. Holding one commander accountable would send a message to both the LRA and the alleged victims of the actions of the LRA. 

To Pardon:

"Many people readily embraced the culture of forgiveness because of sensitization campaigns that promoted it as the best option to ending the conflict. It is therefore the reason why almost 10 years since the return of relative peace to northern many people continue to call for Ongwen to be forgiven."

The supporters of amnesty also believe that had Ongwen not been abducted, he would not have committed these crimes. They cite his manipulation by the LRA to supplement their belief that he perpetrated these atrocities unwillingly. 

A third perspective proffered by the article was the "neutral" view, which takes the side of the victims. Here, it is the welfare of those affected by the LRA's actions that is paramount. 

This article was originally published by the International Justice Monitor on 30 March 2017