Known as “white ant”, Ongwen is accused of having committed some of the most horrific atrocities in Uganda and its neighbouring countries.

Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, is flanked by two security guards as he sits in the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, December 6, 2016.
Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, is flanked by two security guards as he sits in the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, December 6, 2016. (Reuters)

The International Criminal Court on Thursday sentenced Dominic Ongwen, an ex-child soldier who became a commander of Uganda's notorious Lord's Resistance Army, to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Last February, the 45-year-old was found guilty of 61 charges including murders and sexual enslavement during a reign of terror unleashed in the early 2000s by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Prosecutors initially asked for a 20-year prison term, saying Ongwen's own history as a child soldier justified a lower sentence than the maximum 30 years to life. Many of his victims however demanded a full life sentence.

What is the militant group that Ongwen fought for?

The Lord’s Resistance Army, a radical Christian militant group, was founded around 1987 by former Catholic altar boy and self-styled prophet Joseph Kony, who launched a bloody rebellion in northern Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni.

Its aim is to set up a state based on the Bible's Ten Commandments. However, the horrific violence it unleashed has left more than 100,000 people dead. The group has also abducted 60,000 children in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.

Like other militant groups, the group has committed numerous atrocities throughout its history, including massacres, torture, rape and forced labour.  The brutality against children has been particularly horrific. The group gained infamy for abducting children, forcibly training and using children, girls became sex slaves. Among them was Dominic Ongwen. 

Residents of Lukodi village where dozens were killed in 2004 by the Lord's Resistance Army, react as they listen to the International Criminal Court's (ICC's) sentence of Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan child soldier-turned-Lord's Resistance Army commander, on radio in Lukodi, Uganda, on May 6, 2021.
Residents of Lukodi village where dozens were killed in 2004 by the Lord's Resistance Army, react as they listen to the International Criminal Court's (ICC's) sentence of Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan child soldier-turned-Lord's Resistance Army commander, on radio in Lukodi, Uganda, on May 6, 2021. (AFP)

How did Ongwen get involved? 

Ongwen was only 10 when the LRA rebels abducted him on his way to the school. As he received military training from senior leaders, Ongwen would go on to eventually become one of the most ruthless commanders of the group. 

After being kicked out of northern Uganda in 2005, troops under Ongwen’s command routinely terrorised communities in the northeastern DR Congo. They carried out one of the most brutal attacks in its history. The Makombo massacre in 2009 was one such atrocity that left at least 345 civilians dead. At least 250 people were abducted, which included 80 children. 

Ongwen was also the first person to be convicted by the ICC on charges of enforcing pregnancy upon women. He was accused of abducting and raping so-called "wives", some of whom were underage.

Ongwen surrendered to US special forces who were hunting Kony, the so-called prophet in the Central African Republic, in early 2015. He was transferred to the ICC to face trial.

How significant was his case? 

Ongwen is believed to be the only former child abductee to face charges at ICC. 

LRA abducted thousands of children in its violent history - they are considered easier to manipulate than adults. Through mind-control, children have been forced into military training and encouraged to commit violent crimes. They are also brainwashed to obey the group’s strict rules. 

Hence, despite the record of brutality under his command, Ongwen told the court that he is the victim, not the perpetrator of the violence. 

"I am before this international court with so many charges, and yet I am the first victim of child abduction. What happened to me I do not even believe happened to Jesus Christ," Ongwen said in the court. 

Source: TRT World