THE HAGUE, Netherlands, War crimes judges Wednesday confirmed 70 charges against notorious Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen for crimes committed in Uganda, including keeping sex slaves and recruiting child soldiers.
Judges at the International Criminal Court “confirmed 70 charges brought by the prosecutor against Dominic Ongwen,” the Hague-based court said, paving the way to a trial on the alleged crimes.
Known as the “White Ant” in his native Acholi language, Ongwen is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role from 2002 to 2005 in the rebel group’s reign of terror in northern Uganda, led by its fugitive chief Joseph Kony.
Ongwen will be the first LRA member to face trial at the ICC, set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes.
A former child-soldier-turned-warlord, Ongwen was Kony’s one-time deputy and one of the most senior commanders of the LRA, which is accused of slaughtering more than 100,000 people and abducting 60,000 children in a bloody rebellion against Kampala that began in 1986.
Prosecutors in January told the ICC’s judges that Ongwen was the “tip of the spear” of the group that has sown terror in several countries across central and eastern Africa.
Ongwen, who is about 40 years old, allegedly ordered the killings of civilians as well as the abduction and enslavement of children to be rebel soldiers as the LRA attacked helpless villages across the Ugandan countryside, prosecutors said.
Witnesses to the carnage said Ongwen ordered his hostages, at least on one occasion, to “kill, cook and eat civilians,” prosecutors said.
The LRA first emerged in northern Uganda in 1986, where it claimed to fight in the name of the Acholi ethnic group against the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
But over the years it has moved freely across porous regional borders, shifting from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before heading into northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and finally crossing into southeastern Central African Republic in March 2008.
Combining religious mysticism with a bent for astute guerrilla tactics and bloodthirsty ruthlessness, Kony has turned scores of young girls into his personal sex slaves while claiming to be fighting to impose the Bible’s Ten Commandments.
Born in 1975, Ongwen was transferred to The Hague a year ago shortly after he unexpectedly surrendered to US Special Forces operating in the Central African Republic.
Rights groups point out Ongwen was himself initially a victim – abducted at 14 by the LRA as he was walking to school – which may prove a mitigating factor in sentencing if he is found guilty at trial.
Kony remains on the run despite an intense manhunt backed by US Special Forces.