From Child Soldier to War Crimes Commander – ICC Confirms Registry Transmission of List of Individuals for Reparation Samples for the Victims of Dominic Ongwen

By: Tracy Acquan

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associates Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands– On January 16, 2023, the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) approved a sample list of individuals for reparations relating to the alleged crimes of Dominic Ongwen. The Chamber was fully content that the “assembled sample of 205 victims” was “sufficiently representative of the universe of potential victims [in] regards to gender, age, alleged harm, alleged crimes, and alleged locations” of the crimes.

Children in Barlonyo, Uganda at the site of the war crimes. Photo courtesy of Open Democracy and Flickr/Roberto Maldeno.

This decision comes a month after the Appeals Chamber of the ICC rejected Dominic Ongwen’s appeal of Trial Chamber IX’s decision to find him guilty of war crimes. He was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment after being found guilty of “61 crimes, committed in Northern Uganda between July 1, 2002, and December 31, 2005.”  

Between the tender ages of nine to fourteen, Ongwen was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (“LRA”) “as he was walking to school in northern Uganda.” As the years went by, he rose in ranks from child soldier to commander in the LRA. Established in 1988 by Joseph Kony, the LRA is a Ugandan rebel group “currently operating in the border region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.” The LRA is responsible for displacing and mutilating people, abducting “67,000 youth, including children for use as child soldiers, sex slaves, and porters.”  In March of 2010, Congress passed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Recovery Act of 2009” as a measure to support and assist in efforts to disband the group, protect civilians, and restore peace to the people of central Africa. 

Popularly known as the “White Ant” Ongwen is accused of committing some of the most horrific crimes against humanity which include but are not limited to rape, torture, mutilation, abduction, and recruitment of child soldiers. During his appeal, Ongwen characterized himself as a victim, stating that “I’m one of the people against whom the LRA committed atrocities.” His defense of “mental disease or duress” was insufficient to absolve himself of punishment. Ongwen’s defense was unsuccessful in proving that he lived in a “constant state of fear.” The imminence element of duress requires a showing that the defendant lived with “a threat of death or serious bodily harm” on a “continuing basis.” Ongwen was described by witnesses as a “self-confident commander who had disobeyed orders.” He even had a contentious relationship at times with Joseph Kony.

The ICC’s decision to accept the sample list is a step towards the goal of obtaining reparations for the 4,065 victims of Ongwen’s crimes. After Ongwen’s conviction, many activists feared delays in the reparations phase of the proceedings due to procedural delays. The ICC wanted to accept a sample “sufficiently objective and statistically representative” of the victims. The victims would be randomly selected by the “Registry within five main categories of the victims in the case.” This includes crimes committed in the camp of Pajule IDP, the Odek IDP, Lukodi IDP, sexual and gender-based crimes, and crimes against soldiers. Moving forward the ICC instructs the LRVs to consult with the victims on whether they “consent to their identities being disclosed to the Defense.” Many victims hope that these proceedings will serve as a “recognition of the harms” they have faced at the hands of Dominic Ongwen, “The White Ant.”


For further information please see:

BBC-Dominic Ongwen-from child abductee to LRA rebel commander -6 May 2021

Counter Terrorism Guide-Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

ICC-Decision on the Registry Transmission of List of Individuals and Relevant Information for Reparations Sample-16 Dec. 2023

ICC-Ongwen case: ICC Appeals Chamber confirms the conviction and sentencing decisions- 15 Dec. 2023

Opinio Juris-Managing Expectations of Victims and Sustaining Community Outreach-11 May 2022

The Conversation – Dominic Ongwen: how the case of a former child soldier exposed weaknesses in international criminal law- 16 Jan. 2023

The White House-Statement by the President on the Signing of the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009-24 May 2010

ICC Reopens Probe on Duterte’s Deadly Drug War in the Philippines, Who Say They Will Not Cooperate

By: Brandon Cho

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On January 26, 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) granted investigations into alleged crimes against humanity to resume in the Philippines after the Court had taken a step back at Manila’s request in 2021. Upon careful review of the materials provided by the Republic of the Philippines, the Court is not convinced that a proper and sufficient investigation was being conducted by the powers within the Philippines.

Activists take part in a rally protesting at an escalation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, August 18, 2017. Photo Courtesy of: REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao/File Photo

Former President Rodrigo Duterte began an intensified war on drugs near the onset of his presidential term which claimed more than 6,000 lives mostly among the poor. The police claim that many of these killings were against suspects of drug peddling or being drug lords, and Duterte openly ordered police to shoot anyone who resisted arrest. Thousands more are estimated to have been killed by vigilante gunmen who may have been deployed by the police. While the infamous part of the campaign and Duterte’s term took place from 2016 to 2019, the “war on drugs” campaign began in 2011. In response on September 15, 2021, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) initiated an inquiry into the crackdown alleging crimes against humanity committed in the Philippines from November 1, 2011, to March 16, 2019.

Under article 18(2) of the Rome Statute “[…] a State may inform the Court that it is investigating or has investigated its nationals or others within its jurisdiction with respect to criminal acts […]. At the request of that State, the Prosecutor shall defer to the State’s investigation of those persons unless the Pre-Trial Chamber, on the application of the Prosecutor, decides to authorize the investigation.”

Following the initial inquiry, the Republic of Philippines requested the investigation be deferred in favor of the country’s internal investigation. In addition, the Philippines, a party to the Rome Statute since November 1, 2011, withdrew from the Statute on March 17, 2018 which took effect on March 17, 2019. The Philippines Justice Secretary, Jesus Crispin Remulla, does not welcome the ICC and said that the ICC cannot impose itself on Philippines’ sovereignty because it is no longer a signatory of the Statute.

Duterte refuses to apologize for the mass killings and assumes full responsibility for the outcome. He claims the crackdown was lawfully directed against drug lords and dealers and denies extrajudicial killings.

From what has been gathered here, it is unclear if the ICC has jurisdiction over the Republic of Philippines. While the drug war killings occurred while the Philippines was a party to the Statute, it has since withdrawn its cooperation with the Statute before the investigation began. There is an obvious conflict between fear of unfair prejudice and the principles of accountability. A proper investigation by the ICC should be carried out for the interest of justice. How this situation develops will mean everything to the families of drug war victims still seeking justice in long, drawn-out cases.


For further information, please see:

AP News – Intl judges reopen Philippines ‘war on drugs’ investigation – 26 Jan. 2023

ICC – ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I authorizes Prosecutor to resume investigation in the Philippines – 26 Jan. 2023

Reuters – Philippines defiant, says won’t cooperate with ICC investigation – 27 Jan. 2023

Reuters – Philippines’ Duterte says he takes full responsibility for drugs war – 21 Oct. 2021

Reuters – Philippines’ Duterte says will never apologize for drug war deaths – 4 Jan. 2022

The African Court on Human and People’s Rights Finds Tanzania’s Mandatory Death Penalty for Murder to be Against the Charter of the United Nations

By: Penelope Boettiger
Impunity News Staff Writer

TANZANIA – On December 1, 2022 the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (ACtHPR) released its judgment regarding alleged violations in Tanzania of the right to life, the right to a fair trial, the right to be tried without undue delay, the right to effective representation, the right to dignity and to be free from cruel inhuman or degrading treatment following Defendant spending more than six years in pre-trial detention and held in twelve years (and counting) on death row following a mandatory death row sentence. In Marthine Christian Msuguri v. United Republic of Tanzania the Court found in favor of Defendant in all but his effective counsel claim, which was dismissed.

In Tanzania, the death penalty is, per penal code, imposed by hanging. Photo courtesy of BBC News

Concerning his right to life violation, which is protected under Article 4 of the Charter of the United Nations, of which Tanzania is a signatory, the Court found the mandatory death penalty under Article 197 of the Tanzanian Penal Code for the crime of murder violates the right to fair trial and violates the required individualized sentencing which takes into account circumstances of the crime and the Defendant as possible mitigating factors. Ignoring questions of insanity and generalized mental health status in particular violate the required judicial sentencing discretion.

Defendant was held in pre-trial detention for over six years before his trial, which violates his right to be tried without undue delay. The case at hand was not a complex case, did not require a great deal of investigation, and Defendant in no way contributed to the delay. With no explanation for such extensive delays, the Court found Defendant’s rights under Article 7(1)(d) of the Charter were violated. Regarding Defendant’s contention of degrading treatment, the Court found such delays, with the death penalty a likely outcome, would plainly result in the psychological suffering that in and of itself is inhuman and degrading under Article 5 of the Charter. Similarly, the length of his detention – more than twelve years to date – following being sentenced to death also violates this right. This psychological harm is compounded by the certainty of the death penalty in a situation where the mandatory death penalty is not legally in line with the Charter.

The Court here awarded pecuniary damages, reiterated its order to repeal the mandatory death sentence, for which it had been ordered in at least three previous cases. The Court also required the sentence be vacated and reconsidered under a process which does not impose the mandatory death sentence.

In Tanzania there are two offenses which carry mandatory death sentences: murder and treason. Under section 197 of the Penal Code, any non-pregnant person over 18 “shall be sentenced to death.” While the death penalty has been carried out in Tanzania since 1994, making it what is termed an “abolitionist in practice,” new death sentences continue to be handed down. Currently there are approximately 500 people on death row in Tanzania, thereby de facto violating the rights outlined above in Msuguri. The abolishment of not only the mandatory death penalty for murder, but for the death penalty at all, continues to rise in the African continent with Equatorial Guinea poised to be the latest to remove the death penalty from its criminal code at the end of this year. While the President of Tanzania commuted the death penalty for 256 inmates on death row in 2020, sparking international human rights hope that they too would be moving away from the psychological torture associated with indefinite time on death row, this has not panned out. In fact, in 2019 the High Court of Tanzania upheld the death penalty, so while in Msuguri mandatory death sentence and conditions surrounding it were found to be contrary to the Charter and violative of human rights, for now the death penalty and the mandatory death penalty for murder stand. The world waits to see how Tanzania will respond to the ACtHPR’s decision and what, if any, changes to its penal code Tanzania will make.

U.S. Department of State – Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Tanzania – 2020

Leonard Shaidi – The Death Penalty in Tanzania: Law and Practice – 2019

ACtHPR – The Matter of Marthine Christian Msuguri v. United Republic of Tanzania – 1 Dec. 2022

Daily News – Legal experts advise on abolition of death penalty – 17 Sept. 2022

The Death Penalty Project – The Conversation: ‘Why has Kenya not abolished the death penalty? Habit and inertia’ – 21 Sept. 2022

Anadolu Agency – Tanzania commutes death sentences of 256 convicts – 12 Sept. 2022

Anti-Gay Rhetoric Fueling Ukraine Invasion, or is the Ukraine Invasion Fueling Anti-Gay Rhetoric

By: Alessa Rodriguez

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

RUSSIA – The European Court for Human Rights recently found that those who wanted to sue in their court for a discriminatory ban on holding LGBT public assemblies against Russia would have no redress for the alleged violation and ultimately their applications are denied. Article 11 of the Convention finds that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and that no restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights. The only restrictions would be under the realm of national security, public safety, prevention of disorder or crime, protection of health and morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms for others.

LGBTQ march May 2013. Picture Courtesy of Foreign Policy/Getty Images

Even more recently, Russian lawmakers have approved a bill that expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting gay rights. There was previously a ban of “gay propaganda” against minors, this now expands it to those that reach the age of majority. The bill outlaws ads, media and online resources, films, and theater productions that contain the “propaganda”. Violations are punishable by fines and can lead to expulsion from Russia. This bill will move into the upper chamber, expected to approve it, and then to Putin who is also expected to approve this.

The previous restrictions from 2013 were seen as a way to redeem Putin’s image as a conservative and to distract from his persona. This time Putin is using the debate towards on LGBT issues to distract from his attacks on Ukraine. Deflecting the world issues at hand with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he is fearmongering and weaponizing religion as why the “gay propaganda” should be restricted. This political strategy is effectively ruining his public image globally as he is pushing to invade another country and take away queer people’s rights and freedoms. However, Putin’s accomplishments are being celebrated by citizens as 50% of the nation expresses support for “mobilization”, another term for his invasion of Ukraine.

The European Court of Human Rights should evaluate the expansion of Russia’s previous “anti-gay” laws as it effectively leaves queer Russians or queer people entering Russia with troubling consequences, as there may be proper redress for this issue.

For further information please see: 

AP News – Russian Duma gives LGBTQ “propaganda” bill final approval – 24 Nov. 2022

ECHR – Recent Decisions – Aleksandrov and others v. Russia – 20 Oct. 2022

The Washington Post – Europe – Russia advances bill to criminalize “promoting” LGBTQ relationships – 24 Nov. 2022

Wilson Center – The Russia File – To Avoid Answering Hard Questions at Home, Putin Will Keep Fighting in Ukraine – 14 Nov. 2022

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Ruled Italian Authorities Failed to Properly Assess Asylum Seeker’s Age Before Placing Him in Adult Migrant Center

By: D’Andre Gordon

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

Venice, Italy — On January 18, 2017, Mr. Ousainou Darboe filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). His complaint alleged Italy violated his procedural and substantive rights under Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 8 (right to respect privacy and family life), and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Darboe recounted overcrowded conditions at an adult migrant facility he was placed in, Italian authorities’ failure to presume he was minor under domestic and international law, and having no effective remedies for his complaints.

A group of young, unaccompanied foreign minors in Italy. Photo curtesy of Open Migration.

Darboe arrived at Italian shores in a makeshift vessel where he declared he was a minor seeking international protection. Since Darboe declared he was a minor, Italian authorities were bound to follow specific procedural safeguards under domestic and international law. Italian authorities did not follow established protocols and placed Darboe in a facility for unaccompanied minors. Three months into his stay, the authorities transferred Darboe to an adult migrant facility, where he remained for over four months. At the adult migrant center, a local doctor performed a medical exam that involved taking X-Rays of Darboe’s left wrist and hand to determine his age. Based on the results, the doctor determined Darboe’s bone structure was consistent with that of an 18-year-old male.

Because Darboe initially declared he was minor, Italian authorities were compelled to treat him as such within the confines of established procedural safeguards. Darboe was entitled to receive information about his rights as an asylum seeker in a language and form he could understand. Italian authorities were also supposed to give Darboe the benefit of the doubt and refrain from conducting an age assessment using bone analysis due to its inaccuracies.

In the adult facility, attorneys met with Darboe and helped him file a Rule 39 request with the local court. His request was based on him being subjected to a medical exam without his consent and not receiving a copy of the findings from his medical exam. Further, no one let him know of any administrative or judicial findings on his age. As an interim measure, his attorneys asked the court to transfer Darboe to a facility for unaccompanied minors. The court granted Darboe’s request, and he was transferred to a facility for unaccompanied minors on February 18, 2017. On November 7, 2018, the court lifted the interim measure, and Darboe’s complaint to the European Court of Human Rights followed.

On July 21, 2022, the ECHR unanimously ruled Italian authorities violated Darboe’s rights under all three articles of the Convention. As such, the ECHR ordered Italy to pay monetary compensation to Darboe under Article 41. In the Court’s decision, the Court emphasized the importance of signatories to the Convention upholding their legal obligations under Article 3. Despite the unprecedented flow of asylum seekers and migrants into European States forming the external borders of the European Union, signatories to the Convention are not relieved of their responsibilities under Article 3. Moreover, states must do what is in the best interests of a child regardless of their immigration status. In Darboe’s case, he was denied the protections he was entitled to because of the amount of time he spent in an adult facility. Moreover, Darboe was not given a trained guardian who could support him through the asylum process. 


For further information, please see:

ECHR – Case of Darboe and Camara v. Italy – Application no. 5797/17 – 21 July 2022

ECHR – Judgment Darboe and Camara v. Italy – Italian authorities breached rights of asylum-seeker to be presumed and treated as a minor – 21 July 2022

ECHR – Rules of Court – 03 Oct. 2022

InfoMigrant – Human rights court: Italy guilty of violating rights of minor – 25 July 2022

Open Migration – The long wait of young unaccompanied migrants in Italy – 08 Feb. 2017