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Uganda: Victims back leniency for LRA chief but trial awaits

Published:Tuesday | March 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Silveria Okweny, 55, whose husband and sons were killed in a 2004 attack by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) on the Barlonyo displaced persons camp, sits near her home in the camp in northern Uganda.


This is the horror that Silveria Okweny is willing to forgive:

On February 21, 2004, as the sun dipped below the horizon, rebels walking single file approached the Ugandan refugee camp in which she lived. At the shrill sound of a whistle, one of the worst attacks on civilians by the Lord's Resistance Army began.

With gunfire and screams punctuating the evening, some of the rebels entered Okweny's hut as the family cowered inside. As the insurgents assaulted Okweny's husband, their five-year-old son Innocent pleaded with them to stop. Instead, one grabbed the boy by the legs and smashed his head against a wall, killing him.

All told, more than 120 civilians, including Okweny's husband and her older son, would die that day.

Eleven years later, the International Criminal Court in The Hague is preparing to try senior LRA commander Dominic Ongwen for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ugandan military officials and survivors said he helped direct the attack on the camp in Barlonyo.

But Okweny and some other survivors of the February 21, 2004, attack say Ongwen should not be tried by the ICC. Instead, they say he should be pardoned if he comes to Uganda to confess his crimes and seeks forgiveness in a ritual ceremony.

Their willingness to forgive is partly a function of northern Uganda's traditions and culture, but it is also prompted by Ongwen's personal history, he was kidnapped as a boy by the LRA and turned into a child soldier.