Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen convicted at the International Criminal Court
At the end of a complicated trial that had seen several ‘firsts’, on 4 February 2021, Trial Chamber IX of the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down a guilty verdict for Dominic Ongwen, former child soldier and commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. In a 1077-page judgment, Mr Ongwen was convicted on 61 out of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed in Northern Uganda between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005.
Mr Ongwen’s trial took place from December 2016 through March 2020 in The Hague; 4065 victims were granted the right to participate in the proceedings through their legal representatives.
The President of the International Bar Association (IBA) Sternford Moyo said: ‘With this judgment, the ICC has brought a long-running and significant trial to its conclusion. The situation in Uganda has been under investigation for 16 years. This judgment finally provides a legal response to decades of crimes committed by the LRA. The thousands of victims represented in the legal proceedings now have a chance to receive reparations from the ICC. The Presiding Judge detailed the crimes and spoke the names of victims when reading the judgment. We should all remember these names and the lives damaged and lost because of LRA crimes.’
Mr Moyo added: ‘Independent states created this court and it needs their support to continue its work. We call on the states who welcome today’s verdict to renew their support for the ICC and renew their own commitments to ensure both domestic and international trials for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.’
The ICC has been investigating in Uganda since 2004, following referral from the Government of Uganda in 2003. Arrest warrants for five LRA commanders, including Mr Ongwen, Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo, were unsealed in 2005. In 2015, Mr Ongwen was surrendered to The Hague and his case was severed from the one against the remaining LRA suspects – all of whom are deceased, except for Mr Kony who remains at large.
The case against Mr Ongwen was notable for having the most charges brought against any ICC accused to date, including a significant number of charges relating to gender-based crimes. The Trial Chamber detailed how women and girls were abducted and forced to serve as wives to LRA fighters. A conviction was handed down for the crime of forced marriage and, for the first time at the ICC, for forced pregnancy, as well as the crimes of rape, sexual slavery and outrages upon personal dignity.
The defence also raised, for the first time at the ICC, defences of duress and mental illness of the accused, based on Mr Ongwen having been abducted as a child and forced to join the LRA. In its judgment, the Trial Chamber rejected these defences and found that Mr Ongwen could be held fully responsible for the crimes charged.
IBA Executive Director Dr Mark Ellis said:‘With the verdict in the Ongwen case, we again see the relevance and importance of the ICC for closing the accountability gap. This judgment has broken new ground for convictions on sexual and gender-based crimes, as well as consideration of affirmative defences. Abducted as a child, Mr Ongwen argued that he too was a victim, unable to form his own consciousness of right and wrong. This position created a unique morally grey area for the Court, which gave it full thought. The crimes committed, however, are egregious in nature and this case reminds the world that accountability rather than impunity will prevail.’
The verdict was livestreamed from the Courtroom in The Hague and was also screened by the ICC’s Outreach Office in Uganda. A separate sentencing hearing will take place in due course. The verdict may now be appealed, and the reparations phase of proceedings will follow the final verdict.
Kate Orlovsky, Director of the IBA International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme said: ‘The situation in Uganda, and the Ongwen case itself, have challenged the court in many ways and may be seen as only a partial victory by many. The ICC’s cases against LRA commanders raised thorny issues of peace versus justice and were seen by some as pitting international justice against local and traditional justice. The ICC never charged state actors with crimes committed during the same conflict despite calls to do so. It is also not clear that that ICC can deliver reparations in a way that meet victims’ expectations. In this sense, today’s verdict can be only a partial solution to the numerous crimes committed during this long-running conflict.’
- The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
The IBA commenced the International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) in 2005. The Programme monitors issues related to fairness and equality of arms at the ICC and other Hague-based war crimes tribunals, and encourages the legal community to engage with the work of these courts. The IBA’s work includes thematic legal analysis of proceedings, and ad hoc evaluations of legal, administrative and institutional issues which could potentially affect the rights of defendants, the impartiality of proceedings and the development of international justice.
The Programme also acts as the interface between the Courts and the global legal community. As such, special focus is placed on monitoring emerging issues of particular relevance to lawyers and collaborating with key partners on specific activities to increase engagement of the legal community on ICC and ICL issues.
Programme information is disseminated through regular reports, expert discussions, workshops and other events and expert legal analysis on issues relevant to our mandate.
Based in The Hague, the IBA ICC & ICL Programme consults and interacts with court officials, civil society organisations, academics and international lawyers.
For further information, please contact:
Romana St. Matthew - Daniel
International Bar Association
4th Floor, 10 St Bride Street,
London EC4A 4AD,
Mobile: +44 (0)7940 731 915
Direct Line: +44 (0)20 7842 0094
Main Office: +44 (0)20 7842 0090
Fax: +44 (0)20 7842 0091
IBA website page link for this news release:
Short link: tinyurl.com/yxlabf47