Since accused Lord’s Resistance Army leader Dominic Ongwen surrendered to the International Criminal Court in January 2015, there’s been much discussion of the effect, if any, of reports that he was abducted as a child into the Uganda rebel group, and eventually committed international crimes himself.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda responded in her opening statement this morning, on the 1st day of trial in Prosecutor v. Ongwen (transcript, video, and audio available here). First she discussed the crimes with which he is charged, against children and adults alike. Then Bensouda turned to the accused himself:
“One aspect of this case is the fact that not only is Ongwen alleged to be the perpetrator of these crimes, he was also a victim.”
About this, Bensouda said:
“The reality is that cruel men can do kind things and kind men can be cruel. A hundred percent consistency is a rare thing. And the phenomenon of the perpetrator-victim is not restricted to international courts: it is a familiar one in all criminal jurisdictions. Fatherless children in bleak inner cities face brutal and involuntary initiation ordeals into gang life, before themselves taking on a criminal lifestyle. Child abusers consistently reveal that they have been abused themselves as children.
“But having suffered victimization in the past is not a justification, nor an excuse to victimise others. Each human being must be considered to be endowed with moral responsibility for their actions. And the focus of the ICC’s criminal process is not on the goodness or badness of the accused person, but on the criminal acts which he or she has committed. We are not here to deny that Mr. Ongwen was a victim in his youth. We will prove what he did, what he said, and the impact of those deeds on his many victims.
“This Court will not decide his goodness or badness, nor whether he deserves sympathy, but whether he is guilty of the serious crimes committed as an adult, with which he stands charged.”