A Ugandan commander of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) yesterday arrived at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to face war crimes charges.
Dominic Ongwen’s detention means the world is “one step closer to ending the LRA’s reign of terror in the African Great Lakes region,” ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.
Ongwen was brought to the court following his surrender to US special forces in the Central African Republic earlier this month.
Ongwen is one of the main leaders of the Uganda rebels, who are accused of killing more than 100,000 people and abducting about 60,000 children in a bloody rebellion that started in 1987.
He gave himself up after being wanted for nearly a decade for crimes against humanity, with the US offering a US$5 million reward for his capture.
Ongwen will be given a medical check-up ahead of an initial appearance before judges to be held “as soon as possible,” the court said.
During the initial hearing Ongwen must confirm his identity and decide which language will be used during the proceedings.
A former child soldier, Ongwen was a senior aide to LRA leader and warlord Joseph 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.
“The affected communities will now be able to see the international court address the horrible violence taking place in Uganda,” said Sidiki Kaba, president of the assembly of the ICC’s states parties.
US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the news of Ongwen’s transfer was “a welcome step towards justice for the victims” of the LRA.
The UN Security Council also welcomed Ongwen’s transfer in a statement. 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.
However, over the years the LRA has moved across the porous borders of the region: it shifted from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before again moving to northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), and finally crossing into southeastern Central African Republic in March 2008.
Combining religious mysticism with an astute guerrilla mind 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.
Ongwen, who is in his mid-30s, is accused of directing bloody campaigns in the early 2000s in northern Uganda, where thousands of people were killed or abducted to be used as child soldiers or sex slaves. Other hostages were used to carry out attacks on civilians in the DR Congo.
Ongwen’s troops excelled in punishment raids, which involved slicing off the lips and ears of victims as a grim calling card.
Uganda is a signatory to the ICC and is legally bound to hand over wanted suspects to the court.
However, Museveni last month called for African nations to quit the ICC, accusing the court of being used as a “tool to target” Africa.
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