Dominic Ongwen on Trial: The ICC’s African Dilemmas

06 Dec 2017

The trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen at the International Criminal Court (ICC) comes at a critical moment for the Court. Its almost exclusive focus on Africa has made the ICC a de facto regional transitional justice body, but this approach is now facing a backlash from African states, threatening the Court’s very viability. The Ongwen trial throws into relief the dilemmas of the ICC’s Africa strategy and shows how difficult it is for the ICC to contribute to justice and peace on the continent. Specifically, there are four narratives concerning Ongwen’s capture, his individual agency, the LRA’s politics and the Ugandan government’s responsibility that the ICC relies upon to justify its prosecution of Ongwen and its alignment with the Ugandan government. All these narratives face rupture during the trial. However, there seems little chance that coherent counternarratives that could anchor alternative visions of justice might emerge from the trial either.