ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said that Thursday’s conviction of the first Ugandan rebel leader, Dominic Ongwen, was ‘an important milestone in the journey to bring justice to the people of Uganda’.
She said: ‘As a prosecuting office, we have worked tirelessly throughout the proceedings with an unyielding commitment to our mandate, and on the strength of the evidence we have scrupulously collected, to bring a measure of justice to the victims of Ongwen’s crimes. ‘Today is their day.’
Ongwen, the first Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader to be tried before the ICC, was
found guilty of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between July 2002 and December 2005.
He is the first to be convicted for LRA crimes anywhere in the world.
The LRA abducted over 30,000 boys and girls, of whom Ongwen was one when he was 10 in 1990.
They were forced to become soldiers, labourers, and sex slaves.
Bensouda said: ‘Let me add here that Dominic Ongwen was, at one time, himself a victim of the LRA, abducted as a child and forced to become a child soldier.
The ICC does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed by anyone under 18, but Ongwen was tried for crimes he committed as an adult.
The Prosecutor said: ‘In time…he grew into one of the most senior military leaders, fervently committed to the LRA cause with infamous brutality.’
She added: ‘As an adult, he was personally responsible for encouraging and committing against others the very crimes that he himself suffered as a child.
‘As proven at trial, he was also a direct perpetrator of terrible sexual violence, including against young girls some of whom were forcibly “married” to him.
‘We charged him for the horrible crimes he committed as an adult and today he was convicted for those crimes.,
Bensouda said her ‘first thoughts are with the victims of the heinous crimes we witnessed in this case’.
‘The harrowing accounts of the victims were finally recognised through this verdict,’ she noted.
‘I want to seize this important moment to express my solidarity with the victims and affected communities of Ongwen’s crimes in Uganda, and profound gratitude for the victims and the 116 witnesses who collaborated with my Office in this case.
‘I am grateful for their resilience, courage and commitment to the cause of justice.
‘They are most deserving of our praise and admiration,’ Bensouda added.
The guilty verdict included convictions for sexual and gender-based crimes and crimes against children, including for the first time, the crime of force marriage and forced pregnancy.
Bensouda said: ‘This is yet another concrete expression of my Office’s declared policy in action to address these serious underreported crimes.
‘It is my sincere hope that this trial and verdict will strengthen the collective resolve of the international community to end impunity for atrocity crimes, including for sexual and gender-based crimes and crimes against and affecting children; crimes so prevalent in conflicts around the globe.’
Ongwen’s lawyers have 30 days to appeal.