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A woman in Lukodi, Uganda, weeps as she listens on the radio to the ICC's verdict against Dominic Ongwen A woman in Lukodi, Uganda, weeps as she listens on the radio to the ICC's verdict against Dominic Ongwen  (AFP or licensors)

International Court convicts Ugandan commander of war crimes

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has convicted a former commander in the Ugandan rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity, ranging from multiple murders to forced marriages. Dominic Ongwen faces a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

By Stefan J. Bos

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt took his time to outline horrific crimes he said were committed by the commander of a feared Ugandan militia.

The judge said that the International Criminal Court (ICC) had convicted  Ongwen of 61 offenses compromising both crimes against humanity and war crimes.

He stressed that as a commander of the LRA, Ongwen oversaw several attacks. They included atrocities in camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) in northern Uganda in the early 2000s, and abuse of women forced to be his “wives.”

Listen to Stefan Bos' report

“Dominque Ongwen has been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of a number of crimes committed in the context of the four specified attacks on the ‘IDP camps’ Pajule (10 October 2003), Odek (29 April 2004), Lukodi (on or about 19 May 2004) and Abok (8 June 2004),” Schmitt said.

“Attacks against the civilian population, murder, attempted murder, torture, enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, pillaging, destruction of property, and persecution,” the judge added.

Abducted as a boy

The shadowy militia abducted Ongwen as a 9-year-old boy. He was transformed into a child soldier and later promoted to a senior leadership rank. His lawyers had argued that Ongwen was a “victim and perpetrator at the same time.”

Researcher Oryem Nyeko of advocacy group Human Rights Watch agrees. “He should be held accountable for any crimes that he may have committed as an adult. But the fact that he was abducted, I think, should definitely be taken into consideration as a mitigating factor because his situation is so unique.”

But Presiding Judge Schmitt cautioned that the case is about crimes Ongwen committed as a fully responsible adult and a commander of the LRA militia in his mid-to-late 20s.

The ICC is still considering a sentence. Ongwen, now 46 years old, faces a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. The LRA was founded and led by one of the world’s most-wanted war crimes suspects, Joseph Kony.

Female civilians captured by the group were turned into sex slaves and wives for fighters. The LRA also made children into soldiers. Men, women, and children were murdered in attacks on camps for internally displaced persons.

The court found that civilians were shot, burned, and beaten to death, including in a May 2004 attack on a camp in the Ugandan village of Lukodi. Fighters commanded by Ongwen carried it out. LRA founder Kony promoted Ongwen to the rank of colonel after the Lukodi attack.

On Thursday, Lukodi residents gathered around a portable radio to follow the proceedings in The Hague. Journalists said that some broke down, weeping when the guilty verdicts came in.

05 February 2021, 11:57