Dominic Ongwen was abducted on his way to school when he was about 10 years old, and made to join the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). He underwent military training and became a commander in his own right. Among the other crimes that carry his name was a massacre by troops under his command that killed at least 345 civilians and abducted another 250 in the northern part of Congo.
Now, on 4 February 2021, the International Criminal Court is to announce its verdict on the charges faced by Ongwen: three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes. In addition he is charged with murder, torture and enslavement as well as sexual and gender-based crimes.
Ongwen is believed to be the first former child soldier to be charged at the International Criminal Court, but researchers put the number of children abducted by the LRA and made to join the military at more than 30 000. His background – being a former child soldier and forced into a life of violence – could be a mitigating factor if he is found guilty.
Ongwen’s trial at the ICC came about after Uganda referred the problem of the LRA to that legal forum in December 2003. Five top LRA leaders were named in special arrest warrants issued by the ICC, but three of those have since died. Now just Ongwen and the just as infamous Joseph Kony, remain.
While Ongwen has been held in custody during his trial, Kony is a free man. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), his fighters remain a threat to civilians in the border region between the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and northeastern Congo.
HRW has prepared a quick and easy to read briefing on the background to the case and on the awaited verdict that will allow readers to understand the significance what happens at the ICC on 4 February.