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Uganda: ICC upholds conviction of feared LRA commander

December 15, 2022

The International Criminal Court threw out an appeal challenging the 2021 conviction of Dominic Ongwen, the commander of the Lord's Resistance Army, a group that killed thousands during their reign of terror in Uganda.

Dominic Ongwen sits behind a computer as he waits for judges to deliver their judgement on the appeals case
The ICC was established in 2002 to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violationsImage: Sem van der Wal/Pool/ANP/picture alliance

The International Criminal Court on Thursday ruled it will uphold all convictions of a feared commander of the Lord's Resistance Army, a notorious Ugandan rebel group that waged a war of terror during their insurgency in Uganda.

Dominic Ongwen was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes, including murders, rapes and forced pregnancy, in a landmark ruling by the ICC nearly two years ago.

Ogwen's lawyers then appealed the judgement, alleging legal, procedural and factual errors relating to the sentence.

"The appeals chamber rejects all the defense's grounds of appeal and confirms unanimously the conviction decision," Presiding Judge Luz del Carmen Ibanez Carranza said on Thursday during the first part of the hearing.

She also upheld the ICC's original 25-year prison sentence that Ongwen had appealed.

Courtroom in session at the International Criminal Court
Ongwen listens to the judges' decision at the International Criminal CourtImage: Sem van der Wal/Pool Photo via AP/picture alliance

Ongwen convicted of war crimes in landmark ruling

Dominic Ongwen, who is in 40s, was convicted in February 2021 of a total of 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The judge at the time, when reading out his convictions, said Ongwen abducted children and women and "distributed" them among his fighters.

Ongwen kept women and girls for his own household as well, the judge said at the time, adding that the youngest were forced to work as domestic servants and others deemed old enough were forced to be his wives.

Ongwen is the first commander of the notorious Lord's Resistance Army, or the LRA, to face trial at the international court, for his role in LRA killings and other crimes during a Ugandan insurgency dating back to the 1980s.

Famously, the ICC has been seeking to prosecute the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, for years, issuing an arrest warrant in 2005, but he remains at large.

The LRA began fighting the government of Uganda in the mid-1980s partly as a response to the government's mariginilization of people in the north, but swifty degenerated into one of the most merciless armed groups, terrorizing women and children.

Child soldier turned LRA commander

Ongwen was abducted by the armed group when he was 9 years old, with his defense lawyers arguing that his violent experiences in the LRA meant that he could not be held responsible for his actions later with the group.

But ICC judges, both in February 2021 and on Thursday, maintained that Ongwen committed crimes as a fully responsible adult.

rm/msh (Reuters, AFP)