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Uganda: ICC orders record €52 million for LRA victims

February 28, 2024

The International Criminal Court awarded victims of Ugandan child soldier-turned-commander Dominic Ongwen more than €52 million in reparations. Women and children suffered "serious and long-lasting harm," the court said.

Former Ugandan militia commander Dominic Ongwen in court in The Hague
Tens of thousands of victims of Ugandan militia commander Dominic Ongwen should receive a total of €52 million in compensation.Image: Sem van der Wal/Pool/ANP/picture alliance

Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have awarded victims of Ugandan child soldier-turned-commander Dominic Ongwen more than €52 million ($56 million) in compensation.

Ongwen, who was himself abducted by Joseph Kony's notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) at the age of 9 before rising through the ranks, was convicted on 60 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2021, including rape, murder and child abduction. He was sentenced to 25 years in jail and is currently serving his term in Norway.

On Wednesday, the ICC calculated the total value of reparations for an estimated 50,000 eligible victims to be approximately €52,429,000, a record sum whereby each victim will receive a symbolic €750, paid collectively.

"The direct victims of the attacks, the direct victims of sexual and gender-based crimes and the children born out of those crimes as well as the former child soldiers suffered serious and long-lasting, physical, moral and material harm," said ICC judge Bertram Schmitt, saying women and children especially suffered "serious and long-lasting harm."

Ahead of the ruling, Louis Lakor, a 29-year-old Ugandan who the LRA kidnaped as a boy, told the Reuters news agency that reparations could only ever be symbolic "because in reality there's no amount of money that can compensate for the crimes the LRA committed."

The rebels murdered his parents and forced him to kill his sister, he said. "How can you compensate those who died, or those with invisible wounds or victimhood like the children who were born in the bush, those whose parents were killed?" he asked.

Healing Uganda's war victims

Dominic Ongwen — from victim to perpetrator 

Ongwen, now in his mid-40s but whose precise date of birth is unknown, became a senior commander in Kony's LRA under the nom de guerre of "White Ant."

Prosecutors portrayed him as a leading figure in the LRA's reign of terror in northern Uganda in the early 2000s, personally ordering the massacres of more than 130 civilians at five refugee camps between 2002 and 2005.

In total, the LRA is considered responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 people and the kidnapping of 60,000 children, with boys transformed into child soldiers and girls kept as sex slaves.

Ongwen's trial was the first time that the ICC had dealt with a former victim, a child soldier, who became a perpetrator. Since Ongwen does not have the resources to pay the compensation, the court asked the tribunal's own Trust Fund for Victims to help cover the cost.

The judges cautioned that, given the record scale of the reparations, "Victims cannot expect payments to be executed soon after the issuance of this reparations order."

After fighting the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in northern Uganda and neighboring countries for nearly 20 years, the LRA has been largely wiped out, but commander Kony remains one of the ICC's most wanted fugitives.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan in 2022 said he would ask judges to confirm charges against Kony despite his absence, as the rebel leader is still at large.

mf/sms (Reuters, AFP)