ICC convicts former Ugandan rebel commander Dominic Ongwen

Ugandan government put civilians in harm's way - Ongwen's Defense
Dominic Ongwen, was a senior commander in Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army ( LRA)

Kampala, Uganda | URN | The International Criminal Court [ICC] has convicted Dominic Ongwen, the former commander of the Sinia Brigade of the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA].

Mr Ongwen was found guilty on 61 counts of War crimes and crimes against Humanity.

He was facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during attacks in Pajule IDP camp on October 10, 2003, Odek IDP camp on April 29, 2004, Lukodi IDP camp on May 19, 2004, and Abok IDP camps on June 29, 2004.  

On Thursday 4, february 2021, ICC Trial Chamber nine composed of Judge Bertram Schmitt, Péter Kovács and  Raul Cano Pangalangan said that they found, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Ongwen is guilty of murder, attempted murder, torture, enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, pillaging, destruction of property and persecution of civilians. All the crimes were committed in the context of the four specified attacks on the Internally Displaced Person’s camps.

He 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, which he committed against seven women who were abducted and placed into his household.

The same court convicted Ongwen on charges of forced marriage, torture, rape, sexual slavery and enslavement, committed against girls and women within the Sinia brigade, and the crime of conscripting children under the age of 15 into the Sinia brigade and using them to participate actively in hostilities.

Judge Schmitt said, in a judgement delivered today that the court found Ongwen fully responsible for all the crimes, committed in the camps. The attack in Lukodi, which took place on May 19, 2004, left more than 60 people dead.  

The Chamber, however, did not find evidence that supported the claim that Ongwen  suffered from any mental disease or disorder during the period relevant to the charges or that he committed these crimes under duress or under any threats. The judge said in his statement that Ongwen himself participated in the crimes and oversaw them.    

The court found that Ongwen was not under duress, and did not have a mental disorder that would affect his decision-making. The judge instead said that Ongwen was not a subordinate, but a man who contested orders and exercised his own independence in committing the crimes and planned very well before acting.       

According to Schmitt, the chamber will soon impose the crimes of which he has been convicted. For the purposes of determining the appropriate sentence, the ICC chamber will consider submissions by the Prosecutor, the defence of Dominic Ongwen led by Crispus Ayena and the representatives of the victims.  

The Defence could appeal the case, and based on the evidence, the appeals chamber can uphold or overturn the judgment. Ongwen can be jailed in any country of the ICC member states for a maximum of 30 years or a life sentence. ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute does not provide for a death penalty. 

Ongwen is the first among the five LRA rebel commanders indicted by the ICC in 2005 to face trial at The Hague based court in the Netherlands. Others indicted included LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony still on the run, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, and Raska Lukwiya who are all presumed dead.

Over the course of 234 hearings, the Office of the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, presented a total of 109 witnesses and experts, the Defence team lead by Krispus Ayena Odongo presented a total of 63 witnesses and experts and seven witnesses and experts were called by the Legal Representatives of the Victims that participated in the proceedings.

Who is the currently convicted Dominic Ongwen?

Dominic Ongwen trial resumes today at The Hague
Dominic Ongwen, a former senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA]

Former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen’s journey from abduction at the age of 10 to his surrender, and trial at the International Criminal Court [ICC], The Hague.

1975: Ongwen is born in the village of Coo-rom, Kilak County, Amuru District, northern Uganda.

1986: Rebellion in northern Uganda breaks out after NRA/M captures power.

1988: Ongwen is abducted on his way to school and thereafter placed in the hands of Vincent Otti, a senior LRA commander at the time.

1994: At the age of 14 he is moved to Sudan where he undergoes military training in Khartoum, and is tasked with  overseeing field operations.

1998: He is promoted to the rank of Major.

2003: Uganda makes referral of Ongwen and four other LRA deputies to the International Criminal Court.

2004: ICC begins investigations into war atrocities reportedly committed by LRA.

2005: Ongwen is reported dead by the UPDF in one of the field operations. ICC issues arrest warrants for Ongwen and other LRA deputies.

2006: ICC confirms that Ongwen is still alive after cross- examining generic fingerprints of the said body collected with DNA samples of his known surviving relatives. Reports later confirm that he is still alive and is somewhere in the Equatorial province, present day South Sudan,.

2007: LRA leader Joseph Kony orders the execution of Otti and his other close aides but Ongwen is spared. Negotiations with Uganda fail and LRA rebels push backwards to DRC.

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2008: In June he leads a raid on a South Sudanese military garrison in Nabanga in which several rebels die

2009: After the botched raid he refuses to join the rest of the LRA group in Central African Republic. Kony also receives reports that Ongwen is communicating with Ugandan officials with the intention of surrendering alongside his 60 fighters.

2010: Kony sends a large force of loyal troops to intercept Ongwen’s group, which at that time operates along the Duru River in DRC. They split up Ongwen’s group and replace key members with fighters from Kony’s loyalist Central Brigade. Kony demotes him and gives Lt. Col. Binany command of LRA forces in Congo.

2011: He meets Kony again, is demoted on spot and threatened with execution.

2012: In August he escapes and moves further north into CAR. UPDF reports attacking Ongwen’s group in the process.

2013: Defectors indicate that he may have regrouped with Kony again and promoted back to senior leadership.

2014: LRA conducts occasional attacks in areas where UPDF/US troops are stationed.

2015: On January 3 he slips into the hands of the Seleka Muslim outfits near Samouandja province in south east CAR.
On January 5 he is handed over to the US troops who airlift him to their bases in Obo town and is positively identified by the UPDF. Talks between Uganda and The African Union’s Regional Counter LRA Task Force commence on the next course of action.
On January 15 he is handed over to the UPDF troops for processing.
On January 16 UPDF hands him over to Central African Republic to hand him over to ICC.
On January 17 CAR authorities hand him over to ICC and he is flown to the ICC headquarters at The Hague.

2016: Ongwen trial before the International Criminal Court begins in December.

2021: The International Criminal Court [ICC] delivers judgment on January 4, 2021 after trying Ongwen. Dominic Ongwen, 45, was found guilty of 61 charges relating to crimes including murder, widespread rape, sexual enslavement, abducting children, torture and pillaging carried out in the early 2000s.