By Our Reporter
Former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commander Dominic Ongwen, who has been on trial since 2016, has been convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court sitting in the Hague, Netherlands.
Ongwen, 45, a Ugandan child soldier-turned-LRA commander, was found guilty of charges relating to crimes including murder, sexual enslavement, abducting children, torture and pillaging carried out in the early 2000s.
“There exists no ground excluding Dominic Ongwen’s criminal responsibility. His guilt has been established beyond any reasonable doubt,” presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said as he read out the verdict.
He could now be imprisoned for life, although judges will address his sentencing at a later date. His lawyers had asked for an acquittal.
The case is the first at the tribunal in The Hague to involve an alleged perpetrator and victim of the same war crimes, because Ongwen himself was abducted by the LRA as a child.
Schmitt said that Ongwen’s history as an abducted child turned fighter could be considered at the sentencing stage of the trial.
But he made clear that: “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”.
Reporting from The Hague, Al Jazeera journalist Step Vaessen, said Ongwen’s case was “morally the most complicated” the ICC had ever dealt with.
“The main question has been can a former child soldier be held accountable for the crime he has submitted? And the crimes are numerous. The ICC has not seen such a list of war crimes before,” she said.
She added that; “[But] The defence has always said that he is mentally unstable, that he was indoctrinated, [and] he never had a way to form his consciousness.”
Kristof Titeca, a senior lecturer at the University of Antwerp, and an expert witness during Ongwen’s trial, added that the case had raised a “huge grey area which is difficult to determine in international law, which thinks in terms of victims and perpetrators”.
“It is a huge dilemma between structure and agency,” Titeca said.
Under the leadership of fugitive rebel Joseph Kony, the LRA terrorised parts of northern Ugandans for nearly two decades as it battled the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in the north of the country and in what is now South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
In 2004, the Ugandan government referred the conflict with the LRA to the ICC, the world’s first permanent tribunal for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The United Nations says the LRA killed more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children during its campaign of violence, which ended in 2005 when military pressure forced the armed group out of Uganda and its members scattered across parts of central Africa.
Ongwen, an alleged Brigadier General of the Lord’s Resistance Army, was charged with 70 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
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