Ongwen Blog Symposium: Precedent on the Prosecution of Juvenile Offenders for International Crimes

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Armed Groups and International Law


child soldiers, juvenile offenders, International Criminal Court (ICC), Ongwen, piracy, sentencing


On Feb. 4, 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Dominic Ongwen of 61 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Ongwen was a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) member whose culpability appears doubtless – he had been accused of numerous atrocities, including brutal acts of sexual violence, and I have seen no commentary questioning the validity of ICC’s conviction. What appears to be more questionable is the degree to which his sentence should be mitigated in light of the fact that Ongwen had been abducted by the LRA and was a child soldier. In fact, the ICC will hold a sentencing hearing in Ongwen’s case this week, at which his counsel will be able to present mitigating evidence and argue in favor of a lower sentence.

This post discusses whether such mitigation is warranted in light of relevant human rights standards and existing case law precedent. This post concludes that the duality of treating child soldiers as either perpetrators or victims is unwarranted, that a more nuanced approach is necessary, and that while Ongwen’s sentence should be mitigated, his individual criminal responsibility must be acknowledged and an appropriate punishment imposed.


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