January 9, 2015

Ongwen Family Wants Him Paraded for Ritual Cleansing

Family members of the captured LRA top commander, Brigadier Dominic Ongwen are demanding that their son be taken to their home village in Acutumer Gem, Paibona parish in Awach Sub County for cultural rites.

Dominic Ongwen
Dominic Ongwen

The family says Ongwen needs to undergo a rigorous traditional cleansing ritual before being subjected to any trial. They believe the cleansing will rid him of all evil spirits that could have possessed him while in captivity.

Kilambucu Norbert Owiya, Dominic Ongwen’s eldest brother said that a funeral had been conducted for Ongwen after rumors spread that he had been killed in combat by Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) in 2005. He says in native Acholi traditions; tears shed for him must be reversed through a cleansing ritual.

The Acholi people believe that stepping on chicken eggs (Nyono Tong Gweno) frees an evil possessed man of the evils.

Kilambucu says besides parading Ongwen in his village, residents will help government to truly identify him adding that they are still skeptical about the identity of the captured warlord being Okumu Dominic as he is known in his family.

He however pleads with government to spare his brother from prosecution saying he committed awful atrocities on orders of his commander Joseph Kony for fear of his own life.

The fourth of eight children to two schoolteachers, Alexy Acayo and Ronald Owiya, in the village of Awach Paibona Bolipii, Ongwen joined the LRA ranks at the age of 10.

But within in 11 years, Dominic Ongwen turned from a boy too small to walk to the rebels’ camp into one of their fiercest, most senior fighters.

LRA Victims Speak Out:

Meanwhile, there are mixed reactions among victims who bore the brunt of LRA atrocities, some of which were perpetuated by Dominic Ongwen’s brutality on the front lines.

Although some are joining the chorus of leaders calling for his forgiveness under the Amnesty law, several others are calling for his domestic prosecution in the special division of the high court, sitting in Gulu.

Komakech Walter Oyo, a lawmaker in Kitgum district says Ongwen should undergo justice to send a strong signal against impunity.

Komakceh says if government wants to prosecute Dominic Ongwen for bush time atrocities, he should be tried domestically in the special division of the high court sitting in Gulu for speedy justice. He says domestic trial will enable victims find justice and witnesses easily moved to court as might be required.

Geoffrey Oguti, a resident of Mucwini Sub County that suffered a brutal Lord’s Resistance Army massacre in July 2002 says Ongwen must be forgiven for all war time atrocities.

Okwonga Yusuf Adek, former LRA peace negotiator and the clan leader of Pagaya clan says Ongwen should benefit from blanket amnesty as provided under Juba peace agreement.

Oringa John Somali, the Acutomer Gem Village LC1 Chairperson says Dominic Ongwen should be treated as a prodigal son who returned home. He should be subjected to the fairest justice.

But as an Abductee, a Victim of LRA atrocities, Does Ongwen Qualify for Prosecution?

Ongwen would be among the first person to be charged with the same war crimes that were committed against him.

He is far from alone in this messy status: There are fighters in conflicts across Africa who were born into rebel movements or abducted when very young. The principle that such children can’t be prosecuted for what they do, even if no one forces them to kill or loot, is enshrined in several international agreements, including the one that created the ICC.

Yet no provision is made for those like Ongwen who grow up in the image of their oppressors: As the law stands, if they carry out the same crimes after their 18th birthdays that they did the day before, they are no longer victims, but criminals.

As such, any trauma Dominic Ongwen endured ceased to be relevant when he turned 18.

Ugandan Lawyer Nicholas Opio writes that Ongwen, like Thomas Kwoyelo who is under detention, were children abducted into rebellion. While they may have committed crimes during their time in the ranks of the LRA, there are concerns about criminal liability of such children who form the larger rank and file of the LRA.

“The legal and moral debate on our moral obligations towards such children is a moot but compelling argument worth some consideration. It is after all the failure of the state to protect such children that rendered them to abduction,” Opio adds.

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