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Complex political perpetrators: reflections on Dominic Ongwen*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 May 2009

Erin K. Baines*
Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia, 6476 N.W. Marine Dr. Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada


Dominic Ongwen is an indicted war criminal and former child soldier in one of the world's most brutal rebel organisations, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Ongwen is at once victim and perpetrator: what justice strategy is relevant? I introduce the concept of complex political perpetrators to describe youth who occupy extremely marginal spaces in settings of chronic crisis, and who use violence as an expression of political agency. Ongwen represents a troupe of young rebels who were ‘bred’ in the shadows of illiberal war economies. Excluded from the polity, or rather never having been socialised within it, such complex political perpetrators must be recognised in the debate on transitional justice after mass atrocity, lest cycles of exclusion and violence as politics by another means continue.

Research Article
Copyright © 2009 Cambridge University Press

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The author would like to thank the following people for their input into researching and writing this article: Michael Otim, Boniface Ojok, Lino Owor Ogora, Ketty Anyeko, Emon Komakech, Geoffrey Ojibu, Geoffrey Opobo, Julian Hopwood, Jessica Huber, Brian Job, Stephen Brown, Stephanie Nolen, and the two anonymous reviewers for JMAS.



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Respondent A, former LRA commander (1993–2005), male, Amuru District, Uganda, 4.2.2008.

Respondent B, former LRA commander (1994–2004), male, Kitgum District, Uganda, 6.2.2008.

Respondent C, former LRA commander (1995–2004), male, Gulu District, Uganda, 17.10.2007.

Respondent D, former LRA commander (1996–2004), male, Kitgum District, Uganda, 5.2.2008.

Respondent E, former LRA commander and senior wife (1995–9), Kitgum District, 6.2.2008.

Respondent F, former LRA fighter (1999–2004), male, Kitgum District, 5.2.2008.

Respondent G, former wife to Dominic Ongwen (1998–2002), Amuru District, 15.10.2007.

Respondent H, former wife to a senior LRA commander who was a colleague and confidant to Ongwen in the bush (1993–2007), Amuru District, 4.2.2008.

Respondent I, former wife to Dominic Ongwen (1993–2005), Pader District, 21.8.2006.