International Criminal Court holds former child soldier accountable

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27 January 2021

Dominic Ongwen, former child soldier turned senior commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity

The four-year trial of Dominic Ongwen has come to an end, with the International Criminal Court (ICC) delivering its judgment on the 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed as part of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) between July 2002 and December 2005 in northern Uganda. After a gruelling trial, Ongwen was found guilty of all counts on 4th of February 2021, with his lawyers confirming near-immediately their intention to appeal.

Between 1987 and 2006, tens of thousands of Ugandan civilians were killed as a result of the LRA’s activities, and more than 1.9 million people were displaced from their homes. The group abducted at least 25,000 Ugandan children, primarily for use as child soldiers, or to be forced into child marriages with LRA commanders. Most kidnapped children endured inhuman training and were forced to commit terrible crimes, including beating other children to death. Ongwen himself was one of these kidnapped children, having been abducted while walking to school when he was just ten years old. Ongwen eventually rose through the ranks to become a senior commander in the LRA, with one of his most infamous alleged crimes being the Lukodi Massacre on 19th May 2004. He was older than 18 – a legal adult under international law – when he allegedly led this attack.

Uganda’s army forced the LRA out of the country in 2006. Since then, the group has operated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is now South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, and in those countries combined has killed more than 3,180 civilians and abducted more than 8,700 others. 

Ongwen’s trial is one of the only cases in the world holding an LRA leader responsible. As with other ICC trials, victims are given a voice by sharing their views and concerns, separate from being witnesses. Ongwen’s trial has more than 4,000 victims participating, with some seeking severe punishment for him as the man responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. Others are calling for mercy, arguing that Ongwen is as much a victim having been forced into the LRA as a child and  likely facing developmental issues as a result. 

Nothing has yet been confirmed regarding any future appeals.


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Author: Tan Zhong Chen; Editor: Xavier Atkins

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