KAMPALA (AA) – The Ugandan government confirmed on Tuesday that a senior commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group will be handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“Domnic Ongwen will be tried at the ICC in the Hague,” Col. Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, wrote on his official Twitter account.
“Ongwen will be conveyed to the Hague by the Central African Republic (CAR) authorities,” he added.
The announcement contradicts earlier reports that the rebel leader would be handed over to Ugandan authorities.
Ongwen, who commanded the LRA’s “Senior Brigade” – which has been blamed for atrocities including rape, sexual slavery, murder and mutilation – surrendered to U.S. Special Forces in CAR last week.
The LRA’s rebellion was first launched more than two decades ago.
It is estimated that between 200 and 500 of the group’s fighters have terrorized local communities across the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and CAR.
The U.S. first deployed roughly 100 Special Forces troops in 2011 to help thousands of African troops that had been deployed – including Ugandans – to track down LRA commanders.
Earlier reports had suggested that Ongwen had received a pardon from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
But Uganda’s deputy State House spokesperson, Nabusayi Linda Wamboka, has denied the reports.
“President Museveni would only provide a pardon… if Dominic Ongwen was involved in a rebellion against the state or was fighting government soldiers and renounced his actions,” she said on Tuesday.
Wamboka went on to assert that – since the victims of Ongwen and his LRA had been innocent civilians in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, CAR and South Sudan – Museveni had “no prerogative… to pardon terrorists who have abused the sanctity of human life.”
Uganda’s amnesty law does not extend to rebels involved in crimes against humanity or war crimes.
Nor does it apply to LRA leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders, who were indicted by the ICC in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Nicholas Opio, a human rights lawyer, said the announcement represented a change in Ugandan policy.
“There is no legal or moral reason for the U.S. and Ugandan authorities not to hand Ongwen over to the ICC,” Opio told The Anadolu Agency.
This obligation, he added, applies not only to state parties to the Rome Statute – which created the ICC – but also to non-state parties when crimes against fundamental human rights, such as those of which Ongwen is accused, are involved.
He described the decision to hand Ongwen over to the ICC, if agreed to by Museveni, as “a change of political attitude towards the ICC.”
While visiting Kenya late last year, Museveni described the ICC as an “imperialistic and unrealistic court bent on witch hunting African leaders.”
The Ugandan leader has gone so far as to call for the mass withdrawal of African countries from the Rome Statute.
Opio believes that handing Ongwen over to the ICC will “save Uganda political fallout with international justice actors.”
He added: “It will also ensure that Uganda meets its obligations under international law.”
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