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Uganda can handle Dominic Ongwen

The Uganda government was last week contemplating what to do with Dominic Ongwen, the LRA commander who reportedly surrendered in the Central African Republic and who was eventually handed over to American troops.

Officially, Ongwen is a fugitive wanted by the International Criminal Court, over offences he committed while an officer of the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony. So, one option is for Uganda, a law-abiding member of the international community, to hand Ongwen over to the ICC.

However, over the last three years, President Museveni has changed from being a choleric enthusiast of the ICC to arguably its harshest critic.

After complaining louder than Kenya about why President Uhuru Kenyatta should ever have gone to the ICC, it would border on the dramatic if Uganda were to hand over Ongwen to the same court.

Fortunately, Uganda has a fairly functional judiciary – and a special war crimes division – that should be able to try Ongwen to the satisfaction of the ICC.

But there is another angle that the ICC may not be expected to be sensitive to. Some leaders from northern Uganda have welcomed Ongwen’s surrender not necessarily as another step to bringing him closer to punitive justice – but as another step to the end of the brutal LRA rebellion; as another step to enduring peace. Some have even called for leniency.

This latter aspect might be difficult for many people to understand. What leniency does a man deserve who has spent years brutalising, cutting and killing  innocent people?  Yet the often-overlooked reality is that Ongwen is as much a victim of LRA atrocities as he is their perpetrator.

Ongwen was 10 years when the Uganda government failed to protect him from the LRA rebels, who abducted him and converted him into the heartless killer he became.

If for no other reason, this should be a ground on which Uganda should see itself as responsible for resolving a problem it helped to create. Whether Ongwen qualifies for amnesty and restorative justice or gets punitive justice is a matter for Uganda to face up to – and one for ICC to keep off.

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