He is guilty of 61 of the 70 charges against him. Dominic Ongwen kidnapped first and kidnapper later, accumulated a long list of crimes against humanity and war for his role as a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, between 2002 and 2005. During these four years, He put the International Criminal Court (ICC) before the dilemma of trying him for his terrible crimes from the knowledge that before he was a criminal he was a child soldier captured by the paramilitaries when he was a child.
Ongwen was a victim rather than an executioner, and that was the peculiarity of his case. In 1988, he was abducted by the LRA in northern Uganda, when he was just a child walking to school. The terrorist group turned him into a child soldier, gave him weapons, trained him, and put him in their ranks to fight against the government Army. Over the years, he ceased to be a child soldier and became radicalized to such levels that he rose to the right hand and trusted the person of the LRA founder, the feared Joseph Kony.
President Judge Bertram Schmitt spoke today of a “long and complex” case and stressed that he was “aware of the harm that (the accused) suffered as a child”, but warned that the crimes charged against him were committed by “a fully responsible adult and LRA commander. ” Ongwen personally ordered attacks, killings and kidnappings of civilians, and sexual violence against girls (sexual slavery and forced marriages), in addition to the recruitment of children under 15 years of age. The magistrate detailed dire information about the attacks on displaced person camps in Uganda and read the names of the Ongwen victims.
This Christian paramilitary group has kidnapped more than 30,000 children that it turned into soldiers and girls from whom it made its slaves. He is accused of leading the mass murder of entire families, torture, mutilation, slavery, rape, looting, incitement to violence, and a long list of serious crimes that, before international justice, represent war crimes and crimes against humanity. The LRA rebellion spread to the Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic in the early 2000s.
Dominic Ongwen, who was around nine years old at the time of the abduction, is held responsible for several of these crimes, although his victims have been divided during the four-year trial in The Hague: most demand a harsh sentence for their suffering at the hands of Ongwen, and others – especially adults who were child soldiers – recognize themselves in him. However, the Prosecutor’s Office presented evidence of his role, from statements by his direct victims, to witness testimonies and recorded statements from members of the LRA, which showed him aware and responsible for his crimes.
He always pleaded not guilty and his lawyer always put his role as a victim and as a character whose mental health was directly affected by the kidnapping. “If Joseph Kony kidnaps you as a child, you have no other options than to become a criminal, but your actions are not your responsibility, but of the Resistance Army, it must be clear that once you are a victim, you are always a victim”, according to his defense. However, the prosecution defended that he was already an adult when he committed those crimes.
The Government of Uganda was the one who asked the ICC in 2003 to open an investigation into the international crimes committed by Kony and his men.
A few months later, the prosecutors were clear: they issued five international arrest warrants against five senior officials in the group, but only Ongwen and Kony are still alive to account. Ongwen supervised the Sinia Brigade, one of four operational units with 800 men. Ongwen, who will later hear the sentence he will have to serve, hid in the jungle for years until he turned himself into the authorities of the Central African Republic claiming that he did not want to die in the jungle. He was admitted to Scheveningen prison, in The Hague, near the ICC, in January 2015. Kony remains unaccounted for, wanted by the justice, although there are those who consider him lost due to his advanced age and lack of support. There are only about 100 men left by his side.
The LRA had declared war on Yoweri Museveni, a former guerrilla and current president of Uganda, a position he has held since January 1986. Kony, who always presented himself as a Christian prophet, vowed to overthrow the government and create his own state based on his vision of the Ten Commandments of the Bible. Their rebellion cost the lives of tens of thousands of people in combat and some two million fled the violence that has always characterized Kony’s men.