The International Criminal Court (ICC) Thursday unanimously rejected the appeal of Dominic Ongwen, former commander of Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In May 2021, the ICC sentenced Ongwen to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ongwen’s defense team filed an appeal on 12 grounds, including claims that the ICC trial court did not provide proper translations in Acholi — Ongwen’s native language — and did not properly consider Acholi customs and traditions. The defense also claimed that the trial court did not consider numerous mitigating circumstances in Ongwen’s sentencing, such as his current family circumstances and his upbringing as a child soldier in the LRA. Additional claims include that the Trial Court ignored and misused evidence by considering biased victim testimony, ignoring the defense’s evidence of Ongwen’s reduced mental capacity at the time of his convicted crimes and ignoring evidence that he committed these crimes under duress. All five judges of the ICC Appeals Chamber unanimously rejected these claims.
The Appeals Chamber rejected a claim that the trial court violated the prohibition of counting the same factor twice in determining Ongwen’s sentence by a majority of four to one, with presiding Judge Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza partially dissenting. Judge Carranza contended that 20 of the 61 convictions considered in sentencing were impacted by double counting. Carranza specifically took issue with counting attempted murder and murder separately, as well as counting torture and enslavement separately. Carranza also emphasized the importance of considering Ongwen’s personal mitigating circumstances, like his abduction and indoctrination into the LRA as a child, in the calculation of his sentence and suggested that the case should return to the trial court of the ICC for reconsideration of the sentence.
Ongwen is the first of five LRA members the ICC is pursuing to be convicted and sentenced. Infamous LRA Commander in Chief Joseph Kony and deputy leader Vincent Otti remain at large.