Uganda: From Child Sufferer to Child Soldier, to Warfare Prison

Dominic Ongwen, a former Ugandan limited one soldier, has been convicted of war crimes by the Global Prison Court docket. Three judges chanced on him guilty of 61 of 70 prices. These ranged from the war crime of the pressured conscription of limited one troopers to the crime in opposition to humanity of pressured being pregnant.

The presiding make a option, Bertram Schmitt, read aloud the names of dozens of his victims in a stark reminder of the human penalties of Ongwen’s acts. Ongwen became as soon as impassive because the verdict became as soon as read out, top likely undoubtedly paying attention when Hold Schmitt’s dry recital grew to develop into to prices touching on to his former “wives”.

The tale of Ongwen troubles stereotypes of the pathological war legal – relentless males indifferent to human suffering or, extra in total, who actively seek it out. This image is already a unpleasant oversimplification that fails to yarn for the numerous backgrounds and motives of perpetrators of international crimes. There is a burgeoning literature, collectively with my e book Perpetrating Genocide, that repudiates these incorrect views.

Yet Ongwen’s tale is namely troubling. On this part, I plot from research I in fact accept as true with performed for my drawing terminate e book on him to be revealed by Rutgers College Press. The continuing research venture has included (anonymised) interviews with approximately 90 members in northern Uganda in 2009 and 2018. Almost about all had deepest and sing records of Ongwen.

They encompass relations, former Lord’s Resistance Military (LRA) fighters, folks working on his trial, and victims. The previous LRA members encompass members all in favour of his abduction, members he abducted, senior commanders who had been his superior officers at barely an excellent deal of parts in his LRA “career”, his “wives” and his subordinates throughout the LRA. I plot from my interviews to present an impression of Ongwen’s lifestyles before his trial.

Early years

Ongwen had a fashioned Acholi childhood. He became as soon as born in 1975 in Coorom – a exiguous village spherical 40km southwest of the regional centre of Gulu, the largest metropolis within the northern plot of Uganda.

His early childhood passed peacefully. But his lifestyles became as soon as thrown into disarray one morning in 1987 when he and several of his classmates had been abducted on their manner to highschool.

Ongwen suffered terribly throughout his first days within the LRA. As they did to numerous abductees, the LRA fighters sure his arms, pressured him to carry heavy loads, and consistently threatened him.

His survival instinct and dutiful nature (talked about by barely an excellent deal of interview subject issues encompassing all stages of his lifestyles) contributed to his survival. But it undoubtedly additionally resulted in his eventual identification by the Prosecutor as any individual that “performed this kind of very well-known role” in LRA atrocities.

From abduction to battlefield

Esteem all LRA “recruits”, Ongwen underwent intensive coaching and an indoctrination task. He won survey from Joseph Kony, the infamous chief of the LRA, an adept tactician and spirit medium. Ongwen became as soon as terminate to Kony, however in accordance with Kony’s former chief of security:

Kony became as soon as like a chameleon – he would change at any time to a outlandish colour.

Ongwen’s prowess on the battlefield became as soon as renowned throughout the LRA. He became as soon as a fearless fighter and considered by many of his colleagues as an even and adept commander.

But these insider views need to be treated with caution. Right here’s no longer to express that they’re spurious, top likely that they’re in total quiet fashioned by the values of the LRA. Many who had been formerly with the LRA are snappy to speak that Ongwen became as soon as ever all in favour of “atrocities” or “killing civilians”. But it undoubtedly lickety-split turns into apparent that the LRA operated as its occupy correct universe.

Right here’s apparent, as an example, when examining the prevalence and nature of sexual violence throughout the group. The LRA expressly prohibited rape, and members who utilized rapes is likely to be punished barely severely. Yet, pressured marriages weren’t thought of to be rape by the group, in spite of the shortcoming of consent from the “wives”.

Accounts of the LRA are replete with appalling tales from these so-known as “bush wives”.

And in Ongwen’s case testimony within the trial detailed his deepest role within the rape of underage women folks.

Interview subject issues who denied Ongwen’s role in atrocities would generally give accounts of his actions that will no doubt be considered by others as crimes and even atrocities. Yet, these same former fighters saw themselves in Ongwen. He became as soon as an abductee, a mannequin fighter and an efficient commander, and to attribute guilt to him intended accepting their very occupy culpability for acts committed under highly coercive and brutal conditions.

There are prodigious accounts throughout the trial and the scholarly literature on the LRA of the harsh penalties of disobeying orders or making an attempt plug. This ambiance of dismay and surveillance became as soon as intensified by the spiritual beliefs of the group. These included the inspiration that Kony had the energy to read their minds and that wrongful acts throughout the LRA framework would possibly perchance perchance well lead to immediate “karmic” punishment.

The LRA abductees didn’t exact “wade thru the motions” of adhering to the LRA worldview – these had been deeply held beliefs, which many quiet address to varying degrees.

Sophisticated to steadiness

There is a broader area of Ongwen’s trajectory throughout the LRA and whether or no longer he became as soon as a sufferer who survived a brutal and coercive system or a mannequin LRA fighter with an aptitude for cruelty.

In my scrutinize, right here’s a spurious dichotomy. If I in fact accept as true with discovered something else from years of finding out and talking with perpetrators of mass atrocities it’s miles completely that – as Global Prison Court docket Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in her opening observation:

merciless males can create form things and form males will be merciless.

Right here’s scarcely a contradiction – our actions are all fashioned by many concerns and motivations.

This multidimensionality of human personality reaches extremes within the context of mass atrocities, but it will likely be acquainted to us all.

Going past the narrow bounds of legal culpability, the attach does this lag away us?

I spoke to a man who became as soon as abducted by Ongwen when he became as soon as 14 years used, who went on to abduct numerous children – “even my arms are no longer dapper”.

I requested him how he reconciled his sure emotions for Ongwen (who he said became as soon as “like a father figure”) with the real fact that Ongwen took him from his dwelling as a limited little bit of one. He laughed and said, “it’s miles terribly refined to steadiness all that!”

The court docket verdict will no doubt provide some comfort to his victims. But it undoubtedly additionally demonstrates the limits of international legal justice in accounting for the complicated conditions of Ongwen’s lifestyles.

This text is a revised model of a part first revealed in Justice in Warfare.

Kjell Anderson, Assistant professor and Director of the Master of Human Rights program, College of Manitoba

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