Uganda Lord’s Resistance Army Commander Arrives at The HagueAnnelie Rozeboom
Lord’s Resistance Army senior commander Dominic Ongwen, who surrendered this month in the Central African Republic, has been taken into custody at The Hague on charges of murder, pillaging and targeted civilian attacks.
Ongwen is the first of four LRA commanders wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2005 to face prosecution on allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC charges against Ugandan LRA leader Joseph Kony, who remains at large, include murder, mutilation, rape and abducting and turning 30,000 children into sex slaves and killers.
“Dominic Ongwen’s transfer brings us one step closer to ending the LRA’s reign of terror in the African Great Lakes region,” ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said on Wednesday in an e-mailed statement. The LRA has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions, said Bensouda.
The group, which emerged in the 1980s, was driven from Uganda by that country’s army in 2004 and has scattered into neighboring countries, including Central African Republic, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. It now has about 500 combatants, and still poses a threat with the capacity to attack and “terrorize,” according to the United Nations.
The U.S. deployed about 100 combat-equipped forces to central Africa in 2011 to assist in the hunt for Kony.
Criminal proceedings against Ongwen at the ICC are “a step forward in efforts to bring justice to the thousands of victims of LRA violence” over the past three decades, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement on Tuesday.
Ongwen, a former child soldier himself, was expected to receive a medical checkup after arriving at The Hague, the UN said. The date of his first court appearance will be announced soon, according to the UN statement. He’s also facing charges of enslavement, inflicting bodily harm and cruel treatment of civilians for crimes carried out between 2002 and 2004.
Ongwen’s case raises questions about his status as a former child soldier, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on its website. While he rose up the ranks of the LRA to commit crimes as an adult, Ongwen’s own abduction was a war crime and he spent his formative years guided by violent adults. Those factors should play a part in his defense and, if he’s convicted, the sentencing, the New York-based group said.
“Ongwen’s transfer to the ICC does not diminish the importance of focused efforts to arrest Joseph Kony,” Human Rights Watch Africa Director Daniel Bekele said in the statement.