ICC convicts Ugandan Dominic Ongwen of war crimes

Thursday February 04 2021
Dominic Ongwen.

Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, on December 6, 2016. PHOTO | AFP


The International Criminal Court sitting at The Hague, Netherlands, has convicted Ugandan child soldier-turned-warlord Dominic Ongwen for crimes against humanity, including rape and forced pregnancy.

The ICC judges said prosecutors had proved 61 crimes against Ongwen, out of the 70 he was accused of committing. Most of the crimes, the judges found, had been systemic meaning that Ongwen may have been leader of a group that committed them under his command.

Ongwen, once a commander of the feared Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony, is said to have committed the crimes between July 2002 and December 2005. He was accused of maiming, killing, torturing, forced marriage, forced pregnancy and leading an army of fighters in displacing communities in northern Uganda.

The judges are expected to issue the sentences later this year, but Ongwen, who surprisingly surrendered to authorities in 2015 after years of fleeing, may face life imprisonment.

Judges will rely on arguments from Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda as well as his mitigation for the crimes.

The case may also be a first by the Court that directly focused on sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war, identifying for the first time the usage of ‘forced pregnancy.’ The prosecutor used witnesses, including those he had forcibly married.


The Court learnt that as a Commander of the LRA, Ongwen did not act under duress and often defied instructions from his senior when it didn’t suit him. Judges said he was entirely responsible for the crimes committed and not a “puppet on a string” as earlier thought.

According to the findings, he confined his victims and taught them to perpetrate the war. Though considered a child soldier, judges found that he acted as a responsible adult when he conscripted other underage fighters and used them in war.

They found him guilty of attacking civilian residences, killing, torturing, enslaving, looting and persecuting perceived enemies.

Ongwen’s conviction, still subject to an appeal, came 15 years after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for senior members of the LRA, the proscribed group that had terrorised northern Uganda.

The trial began in December 2016.

The ICC is still looking for Kony while his deputy Vincent Otti, who had also been indicted, died in 2007.