THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Jan 26 – Notorious former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen faces International Criminal Court judges for the first time on Monday, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Once known as the “White Ant” for his brutal command within the Ugandan rebel army, led by fellow ICC fugitive Joseph Kony, Ongwen is to make his first appearance in The Hague at 1300 GMT.
He was transferred to the ICC last week following his surrender to US special forces in the Central African Republic earlier this month and is the first Ugandan rebel to face ICC judges.
The former child soldier-turned-warlord is one of the main leaders of the LRA, which is accused of killing more than 100,000 people and abducting some 60,000 children in a bloody rebellion that started in 1987.
Ongwen has been wanted for crimes for almost a decade by the ICC and the United States had offered a $5 million reward for his capture. READ: Ugandan LRA rebel commander to be tried at ICC: army.
During the initial hearing presiding judge Ekaterina Trendafilova will ask Ongwen to confirm his identity and decide which language will be used in the proceedings.
He will also be informed of the charges against him.
Ongwen was a senior aide to LRA leader and warlord Kony, who is still at large and being pursued by regional troops and US special forces.
Ongwen’s surrender dealt a major blow to the LRA’s three-decade campaign across several central African nations. He has been sought by the ICC to face charges that also include murder, enslavement, inhumane acts and directing attacks against civilians. READ: Top LRA rebel in US custody, says Uganda army.
His capture has been widely hailed by rights groups and the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who said it took the world “one step closer to ending the LRA’s reign of terror” in the restive African Great Lakes region.
Ongwen was abducted by the LRA at the age of 10 while on his way to school and turned into a child soldier, before rising through the ranks to become one of its top commanders.
Rights groups have pointed out that the fact Ongwen was initially himself a victim may be a mitigating factor, should Ongwen be found guilty and sentenced.