Former Child Soldier Learns His Fate

Uganda's Dominic Ongwen is convicted of war crimes, but says he was a victim, too
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2021 12:37 PM CST
Convicted of War Crimes, Despite Unusual Defense
In this 2016 photo, Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army, enters the courtroom of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands.   (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

(Newser) – This war crimes conviction came with a unique defense. Former warlord Dominic Ongwen says he should be considered a victim, too, because he was abducted as a boy and turned into a child soldier, reports the Guardian. However, the argument didn't wash with the International Criminal Court at the Hague. The court on Thursday convicted Ongwen, now in his 40s, of 61 counts related to the reign of terror he helped unleash in Uganda in the early 2000s as part of the notorious Lord's Resistance Army, per NPR. Among the convictions is a first for an international court—forced pregnancy, notes the BBC. Ongwen's legal team vows to appeal, saying their client should not be held accountable because he was abducted when he was about 10 by the LRA, run by Joseph Kony. Ongwen rose through the ranks of the organization after his abduction.

“Civilians were shot, burned, and beaten to death,” said presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt of one particular 2004 attack in which Ongwen played a prominent role. It earned him a promotion to colonel, per the AP. The details—not only in that attack, but in others like it—are brutal. “Sexual intercourse was regularly forced on women and girls at a very young age," said the judge. "The women and girls were unable to resist … the physical force and threat of punishment and their dependence on the leaders in the bush." Children were routinely tortured, killed, or abducted by the LRA, according to the war crimes charges, which were buttressed by the accounts of more than 4,000 witnesses. Ongwen faces life in prison at a later sentencing. (Kony remains at large, though he promoted his son to a leadership position in his group several years ago.)

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