FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015 file photo, Anna Acheng, a 45-year-old who was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and whose left ear was partly sliced off by them, stands near her home in the Barlonyo displaced persons camp in northern Uganda. The International Criminal Court on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021 convicted Dominic Ongwen, who was abducted by the shadowy Lord’s Resistance Army militia as a 9-year-old boy and transformed into a child soldier and later promoted to a senior leadership rank, of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity ranging from multiple murders to forced marriages. (AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie, File)

FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015 file photo, Anna Acheng, a 45-year-old who was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and whose left ear was partly sliced off by them, stands near her home in the Barlonyo displaced persons camp in northern Uganda. The International Criminal Court on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021 convicted Dominic Ongwen, who was abducted by the shadowy Lord’s Resistance Army militia as a 9-year-old boy and transformed into a child soldier and later promoted to a senior leadership rank, of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity ranging from multiple murders to forced marriages. (AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie, File)

ICC convicts Ugandan rebel commander of war crimes

Activists welcomed his convictions for crimes against women

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court on Thursday convicted a one-time child soldier who morphed into a brutal commander in the notorious Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity, ranging from multiple murders to forced marriages.

Dominic Ongwen, who was abducted by the shadowy militia as a 9-year-old boy and transformed into a child soldier and later promoted to a senior leadership rank, faces a maximum punishment of life imprisonment after being convicted of 61 offences.

The judgment, which can be appealed, outlined the horrors of the LRA’s attacks on camps for displaced civilians in northern Uganda in the early 2000s, and of Ongwen’s abuse of women who were forced to be his “wives.” Activists welcomed his convictions for crimes against women, which included rape, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery.

Defence lawyers had argued that Ongwen was a “victim and not a victim and perpetrator at the same time.”

But Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt rejected those arguments, saying: “This case is about crimes committed by Dominic Ongwen as a fully responsible adult, as a commander of the LRA in his mid- to late 20s.”

Schmitt described the reign of terror unleashed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which 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 made children into soldiers. Men, women and children were murdered in attacks on camps for internally displaced people.

“Civilians were shot, burned and beaten to death,” Schmitt said as he detailed a May 2004 attack on a camp in the Ugandan village of Lukodi carried out by fighters commanded by Ongwen.

Kony promoted Ongwen to the rank of colonel after the attack.

Scores of Lukodi residents gathered around a portable radio to follow the proceedings in The Hague. Some broke down, weeping, when the guilty verdicts came in, according to a local journalist at the scene.

Ongwen showed no emotion as the verdicts were read in court. Usually, defendants are ordered to stand as the presiding judge reads out the verdicts. In Ongwen’s case, there were so many that he was allowed to remain seated.

“The LRA terrorized the people of northern Uganda and its neighbouring countries for more than two decades. One LRA leader has at last been held to account at the ICC for the terrible abuses victims suffered,” said Elise Keppler, associate director of the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch.

Reacting to the convictions, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said her thoughts were with victims of LRA atrocities.

Bensouda acknowledged that Ongwen was once an LRA victim but said he grew into “one of the most senior military leaders, fervently committed to the LRA cause with infamous brutality. As an adult, he was personally responsible for encouraging and committing against others the very crimes that he himself suffered as a child. As proven at trial, he was also a direct perpetrator of terrible sexual violence, including against young girls, some of whom were forcibly “married” to him.”

Delphine Carlens, a deputy director at the International Federation for Human Rights, said that Ongwen’s convictions for rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and forced pregnancy constitute “a great advancement in the international recognition of the gravity of such crimes and an important result of the prosecutor’s policy on sexual and gender-based crimes.”

The Lord’s Resistance Army, which began in Uganda as an anti-government rebellion, is accused of atrocities including mass killings, recruiting boys to fight and keeping girls as sex slaves. At the peak of its power, the group was a notoriously brutal outfit whose members for years eluded Ugandan forces in the bushland of northern Uganda.

When military pressure forced the LRA out of Uganda in 2005, the rebels scattered across parts of central Africa. Reports over the years have claimed Kony was hiding in Sudan’s Darfur region or in a remote corner of Central African Republic, where LRA fighters continued to kill and abduct in occasional raids on villages, and where Ongwen was arrested in 2015.

Kony became internationally notorious in 2012 when the U.S.-based advocacy group Invisible Children made a viral video highlighting the LRA’s crimes. By that time the group had already been weakened by defections as it splintered into smaller, highly mobile groups. Uganda’s military estimated in 2013 that the group comprised no more than a few hundred fighters.

“Today’s verdict is a reminder that the LRA’s chief leader, Joseph Kony, remains a fugitive who has evaded justice for more than 15 years,” Keppler said, calling on nations to recommit to bringing him to justice at the ICC.”

Invisible Children said this week that 108 children abducted by the LRA remain missing.

Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, chairman of the northern Ugandan district of Gulu, told The Associated Press there were “mixed reactions” among local people.

Some were sad that Ongwen faces years in prison despite himself being a victim of the insurgency, he said, while many others wept for children they don’t expect to see again.

“There are so many children who remain unaccounted for. When such a thing happens, it brings back painful memories,” Mapenduzi said, referring to Ongwen’s conviction.

Mapenduzi said he has a nephew who was abducted in 1996, and the boy’s mother still “screams” his name some days, looking for him.

“From 1996 up to now, we don’t know whether he is dead or alive,” the official said.

By The Associated Press

Uganda

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Central Alberta Freestyle Ski Club is hoping to win $50,000 through the Mackenzie Investments Top Peak contest. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta ski club trying to win $50K in online contest

A central Alberta ski club has entered a contest where it can… Continue reading

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

Mount Pearl Senior High in Mount Pearl, N.L., remains closed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The provincial health authority says there were 185 cases at 22 schools, including 145 infections among staff and students of one high school in Mount Pearl that was an early epicentre of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
In Newfoundland and Labrador, three ingredients made for explosive COVID-19 outbreak

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — With her classes, three part-time jobs and a… Continue reading

A passenger places a tag on luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and familial connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Rail cars wait for pickup in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 23, 2014. The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian oil and gas on trains destined for the United States — a country experts fear is ill-equipped for the potential consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
As debate rages over cross-border pipelines, U.S. analysts brace for more oil by rail

WASHINGTON — The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian… Continue reading

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

VICTORIA — Legal experts and a mother whose ex-partner was convicted of… Continue reading

Radio and television personality Dick Smyth is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Dick Smyth, Canadian maestro of news radio commentary, dies at 86

TORONTO — Radio and television personality Dick Smyth, whose booming commentary filled… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

Most Read