Dominic Ongwen was born in the town of Lamogi, in Uganda.
Ongwen was commander of the Sinia Brigade, one of four brigades of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that terrorised the civilian population in Northern Uganda. He was part of the “Control-altar” the organ in charge of the LRA’s military strategies.
As brigade commander, Dominic Ongwen is accused of ordering and participating in a violent attacks against the civilian population. He allegedly ordered to kill, loot and abduct civilian populations, in various internally displaced persons (“IDP”) camps: the Pajule IDP (October 2003), the Odek IDP (April 2004), the Lukodi IDP (May 2004) and Abok IDP camps (June 2004). He is also accused of sexual and gender-based crimes, conscription and use in hostilities of children under the age of 15.
On 16 December 2003, the Ugandan President Yomeri Museveni referred the case of the LRA’s actions in northern Uganda to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The prosecutor of the ICC officially opened investigations on 29 July 2004.
On 7 October 2005 Ugandan authorities confirmed the arrest warrants and made public the names of the persons concerned: LRA leader Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odiambo and Dominic Ongwen. The warrants had been issued under seal on 8 July 2005 in order to ensure the safety of victims, potential witnesses and their families.
The arrest warrants lists seven accusations on the basis of his individual criminal responsibility, including:
- Three accusations of crimes against humanity (murder; enslavement; inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering) and;
- Four accusations of war crimes (murder; cruel treatment of civilians; intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population; pillaging).
On 5 January 2015, Ongwen was captured by the rebel group of Seleka near the town of Obo, Central African Republic. He was then handed over to the US forces cooperating with the troops of the African Union in the area, before being transferred to the ICC detention centre in Hague on 21 January 2015.
On 21 December 2015, the Prosecutor charged Dominic Ongwen with crimes in addition to those set out in the warrant of arrest: a total of seventy counts. On 23 March 2016, Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmed these 70 charges considering there are substantial grounds to believe Ongwen is responsible (direct perpetration, indirect perpetration, indirect co-perpetration, ordering and command responsibility), for the following crimes against humanity and war crimes:
- War crimes: attack against the civilian population; murder and attempted murder; rape; sexual slavery; torture; cruel treatment; outrages upon personal dignity; destruction of property; pillaging; the conscription and use of children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities;
- Crimes against humanity: murder and attempted murder; torture; sexual slavery; rape; enslavement; forced marriage as an inhumane act; persecution; and other inhumane acts.
The trial opened on 6 December 2016 and Ongwen pleaded not guilty to the charges. The trial resumed on 16 January 2017.
From 16 January 2017 to 13 April 2018, the prosecutor presented its evidence. The defense will start presenting its case on the 27 September 2018.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is a rebel group formed in 1987, which operates mainly in the northern Ugandan region of Acholiland from bases established in southern Sudan.
The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed spirit medium who claims to have received the order to form the LRA from the Holy Spirit in order to liberate the people of Uganda “from corruption, sins and immoral thinking“. Whereas Kony’s exact political goals remain unclear, he is said to aim at erecting a Ugandan theocracy based on the Ten Commandments.
While the LRA is not in a position to destabilize the Ugandan government, it has for 18 years terrorized the civilian population in northern Uganda. The LRA has its origin in an uprising of the Acholi people against the south-Ugandan Yoweri Museveni, which started after the latter overthrew the then President Okello in 1986. However, Joseph Kony did not gain the lasting support of the Acholi and was soon forced to retreat into Sudanese territory. Feeling betrayed by his own people, he has since then directed most of the LRA’s attacks against the civilian population of the Acholi.
The main characteristic of the LRA is that it is made up of up to 85% of children between 11 and 15 years of age. To fill their ranks, LRA troops systematically abduct children, using them as soldiers, porters and sexual slaves. According to estimates, some 20’000 children have been abducted. The abducted children are often forced to kill their own parents to destroy any prospect of returning home. To deter the abductees from trying to escape, the LRA force the children to kill those who tried to escape.
The LRA is responsible for widespread abuses against the civilian population. They have killed tens of thousands of civilians, and many more are said to have died as a result of hunger and disease caused by the conflict.
The LRA’s soldiers are notorious for maiming alleged collaborators with the government by cutting off their hands, lips and ears. As a result of their looting and destroying whole villages, up to three quarters of the Acholi people have been forcibly displaced.
Some observers claim that the Sudanese government was supporting the LRA, because Uganda allegedly supported the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel movement which fights the Sudanese government. However, in a 1999 bilateral agreement, the two governments vowed to stop supporting the rebel groups.
Also based on a bilateral agreement with Sudan, the Ugandan government may pursue LRA rebels on Sudanese territory, but only up to a “red line“, which is marked by an overland-road about 100 km into the country.
On 10 October 2005,however, the Ugandan government reported that Sudan had given them free reign, during one month, to pursue the LRA anywhere across the border.