By Jonathan Kwik
The trial of Dominic Ongwen, an ex-child soldier turned perpetrator, has attracted debate concerning the position of international criminal law (ICL) on perpetrators of war crimes with a complex background of childhood victimization. From some perspectives, such persons are accountable adults responsible for unspeakable crimes, while from others, the lack of regard for their oppressive and corrupting upbringing in a violent armed group does a disservice to their victim status. This article explores the development of the narrative in ICL on three key subjects related to the Ongwen discussion: (1) the traditional prosecutorial focus on adults vis-à-vis children; (2) to what extent children’s agency is recognized; and (3) the long-term effects of child soldiering. Several potential inconsistencies are identified with respect to each subject. While it is found that most inconsistencies have formed as a result of positive intentions, they could nevertheless negatively impact future ex-child soldier perpetrator cases if left unaddressed. The article subsequently discusses the ramifications of each diverging narrative and whether they can be consolidated. It is demonstrated how most contradictions are theoretically reconcilable but that ICL must make deliberate efforts to do so, in order to guarantee the adoption of a consistent and congruent narrative moving forward.
Keywords: International Humanitarian Law, International Criminal Law, Child Soldier.