The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday convicted Dominic Ongwen, a former brigade commander of the African rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), of 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity committed from July 2002 to December 2005. Ongwen was accused of 70 counts of these crimes.
In a 1,077-page judgment, the ICC found Ongwen guilty of ordering attacks against civilians, namely murder, attempted murder, torture, enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, pillaging, destruction of property and persecution, committed successively on four camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) set up by the government in northern Uganda, where the LRA committed atrocities for four decades.
Ongwen was also found guilty of sexual and gender-based crimes, namely forced marriage, torture, rape, sexual slavery, enslavement, forced pregnancy and outrages upon personal dignity against seven women who were abducted and held in his house. The ICC thus became the first international court to convict for the crime of forced pregnancy. It also found him guilty of the crimes of forced marriage, torture, rape, sexual slavery, and enslavement against girls and women within his brigade. The enslaved female civilians were made sexual slaves, “wives” and domestic servants to Ongwen and other members of the LRA. Lastly, Ongwen was found guilty of conscripting children aged below 15 years into the brigade and using them to participate actively in the hostilities.
The Ugandan government referred the armed conflict, which was mainly between the LRA on one side and the Ugandan government and the military on the other, to the ICC in 2004. An arrest warrant for Ongwen was issued in 2005, but his trial began only in 2016.
The ICC found Ongwen’s defense of suffering from a mental disease or disorder at the time of the commission of the crimes unsubstantiated. It also found that the crimes were not committed under duress or threats from Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA. It found that Ongwen committed the crimes as a commander of the LRA who was a fully responsible adult and noted that he rose in ranks from July 1, 2002, to December 31, 2005—the period of the commission of these crimes—and commanded several hundred soldiers.
The LRA routinely abducted and conscripted a large number of children under 15 and made them participate in the hostilities. The court acknowledged that Ongwen was abducted when he was nine and was conscripted as a child soldier. It might consider this at the stage of sentencing.
The judgment includes witness testimonies detailing the gruesome crimes. While announcing the decision of the court, presiding judge Bertram Schmitt read the names of the victims, wherever known, and said, “These victims have a right not to be forgotten. They have the right to be mentioned explicitly.”
Ongwen’s lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, told the BBC that he would appeal the decision on all charges. A hearing is scheduled for the week of April 12-16, when further submissions and any additional evidence would be heard.