Anglican leaders in Northern Uganda have urged the International Criminal Court in The Hague to dismiss war crimes charges against Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander of the Ugandan rebel group The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The former Bishop of Kitgum, the Rt. Rev. Macleod Ochola, who presently leads the Acholi Religious Peace Initiative, asked the ICC and the Ugandan government to grant him amnesty. In an interview with IRIN news service, Bishop Ochola, who lost a daughter and his wife to LRA violence, said trying Ongwen would endanger captives still held by the LRA. He further stated that Ognwen could not be held responsible for his crimes.
Abducted by the LRA at the age of 10, Ongwen, rose through the ranks of the LRA and became a protégé of its leader Joseph Kony. In December he surrendered to US troops in the neighboring Central African Republic and was extradited to stand trial for crimes he committed in Uganda, the Congo and the CAR while leading the LRA’s Sania Brigade. “Even if he committed serious crimes against humanity, we as religious leaders stand for forgiveness. Even those who crucified Jesus on the cross, he prayed and forgave them because they didn’t know what they were doing,” Bishop Ochola said.
“The government should not jeopardize the lives of children and women still in LRA captivity. We appeal to the government to forgive and set him free. He should be given amnesty as any rebel who surrenders, renounces and abandons rebellion,” the bishop said.
The Bishop of Northern Uganda, the Rt. Rev. Nelson Nelson Onono-Onweng, also urged clemency. “The world betrayed this child. The state, which had the instruments to protect him, did not,” he told RNS. However, legal experts in Uganda argue the country’s international treaty obligations require it to deliver Ongwen to the ICC, saying he must answer for his crimes against humanity.
A spokesman for the Church of Uganda told Anglican Ink it had not taken a formal stance on the issue and that the bishops were speaking in their individual capacities and as leaders of interfaith groups in Northern Uganda. Ognwen appeared before the ICC on 26 January 2015, to answer the charges of war crimes brought in 2005. He was one of more than 60,000 children abducted by the LRA and trained as soldiers in the rebel’s war against the government. An estimated 100,000 people died and over 2.5 million were driven from their homes by the fighting.