The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday upheld the conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity of Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan child soldier who became a top commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
“The appeals chamber rejects all the grounds of appeal presented by the defence and unanimously confirms the decision on the guilt of Mr Ongwen,” said presiding judge Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza, adding that the court would rule later on Thursday on the rebel leader’s appeal against his 25-year prison sentence.
Dominic Ongwen, abducted on his way to school at the age of nine by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by fugitive Joseph Kony, was convicted last year of murder, rape and sexual slavery in northern Uganda in the early 2000s.
The ICC does not know the exact age of Dominic Ongwen, who appears to be in his 40s.
He had appealed against his conviction and sentence at the ICC, based in The Hague, six years after his trial began.
Founded in Uganda in the 1980s by former choirboy Joseph Kony to establish a Ten Commandments regime, the LRA terrorised large areas of central Africa for 30 years, kidnapping children, maiming civilians on a massive scale and enslaving women.
“The appeals chamber wishes to recognise the extreme suffering endured by the victims of Dominic Ongwen’s crimes during the period covered by the charges,” the judge said.
Ongwen’s lawyers had argued earlier this year that his conviction and sentence should be quashed because he was himself a victim of the LRA as a child soldier.
“Dominic Ongwen was, and still is, a child,” his lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo told the court in February, adding that his client still believed he was “possessed” by the spirit of Joseph Kony.
The ICC prosecutor recently asked judges to confirm the charges against Joseph Kony, who has been on the run for more than 17 years, so that once captured, his trial can take place as soon as possible.
– Scapegoat’ –
The LRA is responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 people and the abduction of 60,000 children, turning boys into docile soldiers and girls into sex slaves.
Mr Ongwen was found guilty of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including forced pregnancy – a first for the ICC – but also murder, rape, sexual slavery and conscripting child soldiers.
At first instance, the ICC found that Mr Ongwen was not mentally ill, despite his abduction and brutality at the hands of the LRA and that the “White Ant” – his nom de guerre – had personally ordered the massacre of civilians in refugee camps between 2002 and 2005.
The defence had appealed on more than 100 grounds, including that Mr Ongwen was a “scapegoat” for the rebel movement.
“The judgment is full of errors based on law, fact and procedure,” lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo said in court documents.
Joseph Kony should be in the dock, as he was the one who decided on the distribution of women and children as sex slaves, the defence argued.