The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday sentenced Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan child soldier turned commander of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Dominic Ongwen, 45, was convicted in February on 61 counts, including forced pregnancy, which had never before been brought before the Hague-based ICC.
He was also found guilty of murder, rape, sexual slavery and conscripting child soldiers, among other charges.
“In light of the gravity of the crimes you have committed, the chamber sentences you to a total period of imprisonment of 25 years,” Judge Bertram Schmitt said in addressing Ongwen.
According to the court, Ongwen ordered attacks on refugee camps in the early 2000s while serving as a commander of the LRA, an armed group led by fugitive Joseph Kony, which has waged a brutal war in Uganda and three neighboring countries to establish a state based on the Ten Commandments of the Bible.
Ongwen faced a life sentence. But the prosecution argued that Mr. Ongwen’s history of abduction by the rebel group when he was about nine years old warranted a lesser sentence, and requested 20 years in prison.
“This is a circumstance that distinguishes this case from all others tried by this court,” said Colin Black, a member of the prosecution team, at the April sentencing hearing at the ICC.
After pleading for acquittal during the trial, stressing that the accused had himself been a victim of the rebel group’s brutality, the defense asked for 10 years in prison for the former child soldier, nicknamed the “white ant”, during this sentencing hearing.
The victims, for their part, demanded life imprisonment.
Ongwen has always denied “in the name of God” all the accusations against him. He told the ICC that the LRA forced him to eat beans soaked in the blood of the first people he was forced to kill as an initiation after he was abducted.
“I am before this international court with so many charges, and yet I am the first victim of child abduction,” he said at his trial.
“What happened to me, I don’t even think it happened to Jesus Christ,” he added.
In finding him guilty, the ICC judges acknowledged that Ongwen had suffered greatly himself but said his crimes were committed “as a responsible adult and commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army”.
According to the UN, the LRA has massacred more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children in violence that has spread to Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
Ongwen, who surrendered in 2015, is the first LRA commander to be tried by the ICC. The group’s founder, Joseph Kony, is believed to still be at large and is the subject of an arrest warrant from the court.