Uganda: Dominic Ongwen convicted by the ICC for a wide range of sexual and gender-based crimes

© ICC-CPI

(The Hague – Paris – Kampala) Today, after a four-year long trial, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found former senior commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Dominic Ongwen, guilty of international crimes committed in northern Uganda since July 2002. FIDH and FHRI welcome the verdict as it finally brings justice to victims of atrocious crimes committed by the LRA, including a wide range of sexual and gender-based crimes.

To learn more about the Dominic Ongwen case, see our Q&A.

“The conviction of Dominic Ongwen is a crucial step towards accountability for the crimes committed by the LRA in Uganda, the first situation investigated by the ICC. It serves as a strong message to other LRA commanders who are still active and responsible for atrocious crimes committed in the region that they can be held accountable for their actions.”

Sheila Muwanga, FIDH Vice President

The ICC Trial Chamber found Dominic Ongwen guilty of 61 of the 70 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes he was initially charged with. These crimes were committed between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005 in northern Uganda, in particular during attacks on four camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Among the charges he was held responsible and convicted for are counts related to the use and conscription of child soldiers, attacks against civilians, murder, torture, pillaging, destruction of property, enslavement and persecution on political grounds. Dominic Ongwen was also convicted for the sexual and gender-based crimes of rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, outrage upon personal dignity, and forced pregnancy, for the first time included in a verdict at the ICC. The Chamber, in its detailed judgment summary delivered this morning, named individual victims of each crime, which can be welcomed as an important precedent.

“Along with Bosco Ntaganda’s conviction in 2019 for rape and sexual slavery as crimes against humanity, Mr Ongwen’s conviction for rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and forced pregnancy, as war crimes and crimes against humanity constitutes a great advancement in the international recognition of the gravity of such crimes and an important result of the Prosecutor’s policy on sexual and gender-based crimes.”

Delphine Carlens, Head of FIDH’s international justice desk

The Trial Chamber’s decision on Mr Ongwen’s sentence will follow. His sentencing is particularly anticipated given his status as a former child soldier. This issue has been at the forefront of the trial and is central to the strategy of his defence team. Indeed, child soldiers are themselves victims, and the ICC Statute does not provide jurisdiction over crimes committed by a person under the age of 18 years. While Mr Ongwen was tried and convicted by the ICC for international crimes he committed as an adult, his status as a child soldier is expected to have an impact in establishing his final sentence.

Background

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is an armed rebel group, led by Joseph Kony, that was organised around 1987. It initially fought the Ugandan government in Northern Uganda, with incursions into Southern Sudan. From at least July 2002 to December 2005 an armed conflict not of an international character between the LRA and armed forces of the Government of Uganda existed in Northern Uganda. Ugandan military operations forced the group out of Uganda in 2005 and 2006. After that, the LRA gradually became a regional threat, operating in the remote border areas between Southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic (CAR).

On 8 July 2005, ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II issued warrants of arrest against Dominic Ongwen, together with four other LRA senior leaders – Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo – for the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

On 6 January 2015, Dominic Ongwen surrendered to US military stationed in CAR, fighting against the LRA, and was then transferred to the ICC detention center in the Hague where he arrived on 21 January 2015.
Mr Ongwen’s trial began on 6 December 2016 and ended with closing statements on 12 March 2020. Over 4,000 victims participated in the proceedings and around 130 witnesses were heard.

Read more
communique