Warlord Seeking Lenient Sentencing Describes Upbringing in Brutality

Among other claims, Dominic Ongwen told the International Criminal Court that he wasn’t a bad person because he had been attacked by six lions but didn’t die. 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Raised in the Lord’s Resistance Army before becoming its leader, Dominic Ongwen sought to reduce his prison sentence for dozens of war crimes on Thursday by recounting the disturbing details of his years as a child soldier. 

“This is a proceeding on a madman, of a baby, of a person who is non-existing,” Ongwen said of the five-year-long trial. In February, he was convicted by the International Criminal Court of 61 counts of murder, torture, and enslavement for his role in attacks on displaced person camps in northern Uganda between 2002 and 2005. 

On Thursday, Ongwen made a rambling, nearly two-hour-long statement at The Hague-based courtroom. Refusing to apologize for his crimes, he instead detailed his kidnapping by the LRA at age 9. Saying he was forced to disembowel civilians, wear their intestines around his neck, and eat beans soaked in their blood, Ongwen claimed his experiences were worse than the persecution of Jesus and that he’d been shot 11 times, “more than any soldier in any of the World Wars.” 

He made history at The Hague-based court by being the first defendant in the court’s 20-year history to admit participating in some of the crimes of which he was accused. 

Ongwen was kidnapped by the quasi-Christian armed group, led by self-declared prophet Joseph Kony, when he was walking to school, going on to climb its ranks. The United Nations estimates that the group is responsible for killing 100,000 people and forcibly conscripting between 60,000 and 100,000 children into its fighting force.

On Tuesday, the prosecution presented its arguments for why Ongwen should receive a 20-year sentence. Lawyers representing the more than 4,000 victims in the case want Ongwen to get the maximum sentence of life in prison. 

Following Owgwen’s statement, his lawyer, Krispus Odongo, requested his client be given a 10-year sentence. “Mr. Ongwen, in the first place, was a victim in the same manner and experiences as these crimes,” he told the three-judge panel. 

Ongwen, 46, also claimed that Kony had magical powers and would cast spells on anyone who tried to leave the cult-like militia group. “I feel I have left jail since I left the LRA,” he told the court. “When I was in the LRA that was the real jail. … I am more free … a hundred times … than when I was with the LRA.” 

Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army came into the world spotlight when a short documentary about the leader’s atrocities, “Kony 2012,” went viral that year. More than 100 million people have viewed the 28-minute film since it was published and brought immense attention to the plight of child soldiers in Uganda. The landlocked central African country has been mired in conflict since its colonial independence in the 1960s.

Ongwen was turned over to the ICC after being captured by U.S. Special Forces in the Central African Republic. It is believed he had fallen out of Kony’s good graces and had been taken captive by his former leader, before breaking free and handing himself in, reasoning that he was safer in custody.

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