Ugandan rebel leader Dominic Ongwen found guilty of war crimes

Former child solider oversaw reign of terror by the Lord's Resistance Army

FILE- In this Tuesday, Thursday Jan. 21, 2016, file photo, Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the brutal Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, is seated in the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Judges at the International Criminal Court are passing judgement Thursday Feb. 4, 2021, on Ongwen, who is charged with 70 crimes including murder, sexual slavery and using child soldiers. (Michael Kooren via AP, Pool, File)

A former Ugandan child soldier who rose through the ranks to become leader of a brutal rebel group was on Thursday convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Dominic Ongwen, 45, was found guilty at the International Criminal Court of dozens of charges relating to a reign of terror by the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda in the early 2000s. The charges included murder, rape, torture, sexual slavery and using child soldiers.

The former militia leader became the first defendant at the ICC to be found guilty of war crimes as well as crimes against humanity.

Another ICC precedent was established when Ongwen was convicted of forced pregnancy relating to women he took as sex slaves.

"His guilt has been established beyond any reasonable doubt," presiding judge Bertram Schmitt told the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

The court said Ongwen, who was nicknamed “White Ant”, ordered attacks on four refugee camps as a senior commander in the LRA, which under its fugitive chief Joseph Kony waged a bloody campaign to set up a state based on the Bible's Ten Commandments.

Judges rejected defence arguments that Ongwen was himself a victim, because he had been abducted by the LRA when he was about nine before rising to become deputy leader.

"The chamber is aware that he suffered much," Mr Schmitt said. "However, this case is about crimes committed by Dominic Ongwen as a responsible adult and a commander of the LRA.

"The chamber did not find evidence for the claim by the defence that he suffered from any mental disease or that he committed the crimes under duress.”

The ICC issued a warrant for Ongwen’s arrest in 2005 and a search by African and US forces began in 2011. He turned himself in to the Central African Republic in 2014 and his three-and-a-half-year trial ended in March, 2020.

The LRA was founded three decades ago by former Roman Catholic altar boy and self-styled prophet Kony, who sought to overthrow Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

According to the United Nations, the LRA killed more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children in a campaign of violence that spread to Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Mr Schmitt said children and mothers with babies tied to their backs were among those killed by the regime. "Civilians were shot, burnt and beaten to death,” he said.