A former Ugandan child soldier who became a commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army was convicted on Thursday of dozens of crimes, including widespread rape, sexual enslavement, child abductions, torture and murder, including killings of babies.
Dominic Ongwen was found guilty by the International Criminal Court of 61 out of 70 alleged counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. A hearing in mid-April will consider a possible sentence, which could be up to life imprisonment, with a decision expected later this year.
Judges at the court said Ongwen, who himself was taken by the LRA as a young boy, had acted out of free will in committing “innumerable” crimes between 2002 and 2005, commanding several hundred soldiers.
“Mothers were forced to abandon their children in the bush. LRA fighters threw children, including babies, into the bush because the children were crying and making it difficult for their mothers to carry looted goods,” Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said, naming the victims and describing the crimes. “His guilt has been established beyond any reasonable doubt,” he said.
Ongwen, wearing a tie and face mask, sat impassively in court, sometimes with his eyes closed, listening as the judgment was read out.
In a legal first, Ongwen was also convicted for the crime of forced pregnancy for atrocities committed against seven women. “As a result of the sexual and physical violence and the living conditions to which they were submitted, the abducted women and girls suffered severe, barely imaginable physical and mental pain,” Schmitt said.
Ongwen ordered the killing and abduction of many civilians during attacks on camps protected by Ugandan government forces and personally took sex slaves, raped women and forced children to fight in hostilities, the court found.
“The LRA terrorized the people of northern Uganda and its neighbouring countries for more than two decades,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in reaction. “One LRA leader has at last been held to account at the ICC for the terrible abuses victims suffered.”
It noted that Ongwen’s superior officer, LRA head Joseph Kony, has evaded justice for more than 15 years and called on countries to help secure his arrest and transfer to The Hague for trial.