BY OUR TEAM
The Lord Resistance Army LRA’s Dominic Ongwen (45) the second in command to fugitive Joseph Kony notorious rebel group that caused mayhem in northern Uganda has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for war crimes including murder, rape and torture.
Ongwen becomes the first former Ugandan rebel commander to be convicted and sentenced by the International Criminal Court. Ongwen was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group when he was eight years old and eventually became a feared commander when the marauding LRA rebel group torched villages , maimed innocent Ugandans and forced close to half a million people to live in a squalor while in protected displaced people’s camps for decades.
He was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in February on 61 of 70 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The crimes relate to attacks on four camps for internally displaced people in Uganda in 2004. More than 4,000 victims provided testimony in the case, which was heard in The Hague.
Despite the gravity of the crimes, judges sentencing Ongwen on Thursday said they decided not to give the maximum life sentence because he was abducted as a child on his way to school in the late 1980s and groomed by rebels who had killed his parents.
But they found he had knowingly committed serious crimes as an adult during the LRA’s two decade reign of terror in the 2000s.
“The chamber… is confronted with a perpetrator who wilfully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims,” presiding judge Bertram Schmitt said. “However, it is also confronted with a perpetrator who himself had previously endured extreme suffering at the hands of the group.”
The judges added that they hoped to give him the opportunity to rehabilitate. His conviction means that victims can now start the process of seeking reparations.
At the height of his time with the LRA, Ongwen – known as White Ant because his surname means “born at the time of the white ant” – was the commander of the Sinia brigade and one of the most feared fighters in the rebel movement. He turned himself in to US forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2015 – and they later handed him over to the Ugandan army.
The LRA was formed more than 30 years ago, operating in Uganda and neighboring countries.
Led by Joseph Kony, it became notorious for abducting thousands of children to use as soldiers or sex slaves, and for mutilating civilians.
In 2005, the LRA was forced out of Uganda by the army and the rebels went into what is now South Sudan. They eventually set-up camp in the border area with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They later moved to CAR where they acted more like a criminal outfit engaging in poaching and illegal mining. Arrest warrants for Joseph Kony and other top commanders of the movement remain outstanding. The gangster Kony is still on the run and is whereabouts is unknown but there is a bounty-on his head .