By Aiyeku Timothy
Ex-Ugandan rebel commander and former LAR child soldier Dominic Ongwen has been convicted of 61 to 70 war crimes at the International Criminal Court.
This is also the first time in the an international court, a suspect would be convicted of forced pregnancy as witnessed in Dominic Ongwen’s case on Thursday.
The feared commander of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is the first member of the group to appear before the court for attacks on four camps for internally displaced people in Uganda in 2004 after 4,000 testimonies from victims were admitted in the ICC case.
There are levels of uncertainty in Ongwen’s case as he appeared to be both the victim and the alleged perpetrator but it is feared he could be sentenced to life imprisonment.
In his own defence, Ongwen said he was abducted by the LRA and forced to be a child soldier, before going on to rise up the ranks to become the deputy to LRA commander Joseph Kony.
“Straight away we can say without mincing words that we are definitely going to appeal on all the charges,” Ongwen’s lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo told the BBC. He said the verdict “landed like a bombshell”.
But it was welcomed by Elise Keppler, associate director of the International Justice Program at campaign group Human Rights Watch.
“This case is a milestone as the first and only LRA case to reach a verdict anywhere in the world,” she said.
Ongwen is facing war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, rape torture, sexual enslavement and pillaging, among others an a warrant arrest was issued by the ICC in 2015.
In 2015, he gave himself up in the Central African Republic (CAR) after US and African forces had been searching for him since 2011.
At the start of the trial, prosecutors showed gruesome footage of the scene after an LRA attack on Lukodi refugee camp in northern Uganda, where children were disembowelled and the charred bodies of babies left in shallow graves.
In his verdict at the end of Ongwen’s trial, presiding judge Bertram Schmitt said “the chamber is aware that he suffered much.
“However this case is about crimes committed by Dominic Ongwen as a responsible adult and a commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army.”
Judge Schmitt added: “His guilt has been established beyond any reasonable doubt.”
He said there was no evidence to support the defence argument that Dominic Ongwen “suffered from any mental disease or disorder during the period relevant to the charges, or that he committed these crimes under duress”.