The International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down convictions Feb. 4 in the case of Dominic Ongwen, a former brigade commander of the Ugandan rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), on 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed from July 2002 to December 2005. In a 1,077-page judgment, the ICC found Ongwen guilty of ordering attacks against civilians, including murder, attempted murder, torture, enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, pillaging, destruction of property, and persecution. These were committed successively on four camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) set up by the government in northern Uganda, where the LRA was active 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 home. 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 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 similarly rejected claims that the crimes were committed under duress or threats from Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA. It found that he 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 himself abducted when he was nine and conscripted as a child soldier. It might consider this factor 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 April, when further submissions and any additional evidence is to be heard.
From Jurist, Feb. 4. Used with permission.