Ugandan Warlord Faces Reckoning at The Hague

Dominic Ongwen at the Dec. 6 opening of his trial at the Internatinal Criminal Court (Photo by ICC-CPI)
Dominic Ongwen at the Dec. 6 opening of his trial at the Internatinal Criminal Court (Photo by ICC-CPI)

(CN) — The former commander of a Christian extremist group appeared before the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, more than a decade after a reign of terror that the prosecutor said “blighted the lives of millions of people living in Northern Uganda.”

The Lord’s Resistance Army is reported to have inflicted untold misery in the African continent, abducting an estimated 20,000 children by 2004, killing 100,000 civilians and displacing 1.5 million others.

Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander for the group’s Sinia Brigade, is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, pillaging, sexual slavery, forced marriage, torture and cruel treatment of civilians.

The international court’s top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the tribunal at The Hague this morning that justice is well overdue.

“The victims of Mr. Ongwen’s brutal crimes have waited too long to see justice done,” Bensouda said at the end of her remarks. “It is past time we deliver to them what they are owed. On the strength of the prosecution’s case and the evidence that will be presented during the course of this trial, we hope to do just that.”

The Guardian reported that Ongwen dramatically denied the charges.

Depicting himself as a victim of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Ongwen said the rebel group abducted him as a child soldier. “In the name of God, I deny all these charges,” he said according to the Guardian.

Proceedings against Ongwen before the Netherlands-based international court focus on two time periods.

The first focuses upon the army’s harrowing campaign against civilian populations living in internally displaced persons camps between October 2003 and June 2004.

“When these camps were attacked by the LRA, the attackers murdered residents, burned their homes, and enslaved survivors who were made to carry away domestic animals, food, clothes, money and other basic necessities which the inhabitants needed to survive,” Bensouda said, using the abbreviation for Lord’s Resistance Army. “Children were abducted on a more permanent basis to be conscripted into the ranks of the attackers as child soldiers and forced to act as sex slaves.”

Roughly 4,000 people living in four of these camps — Pajule, Odek, Lukodi and Abok — registered as victims of from these attacks, a sizeable portion of their total population of 35,000 people, prosecutors say.

Bensouda showed the court “extremely disturbing” images of killed and tortured residents from the camps, and promised to produce evidence demonstrating that the attacks on these locations were “terrifying.”

Another subset of charges relate to the LRA’s campaign of forced marriage and sexual slavery between July 1, 2002 and Dec. 31, 2005.

Joseph Kony, the LRA’s founder who styles himself a “spokesperson” of God, is suspected of co-leading the campaign that abducted, raped, and enslaved women and girls.

Though Ongwen surrendered to U.S. forces last year, Kony remains at large and is believed to be hiding in the jungles of Central African Republic and Sudan.