The International Criminal Court (ICC) heard closing statements Tuesday in the trial of a former commander of the Uganda-based Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Dominic Ongwen, the first LRA member to appear before the court, denied all the charges.
"I was abducted in 1988 and was taken to the bush when I was 14 years old," he said.
Long before he was a feared and notorious commander, Ongwen became a child victim of the LRA when he was abducted while walking to school. He was indoctrinated and forced to commit unspeakable atrocities at 14 years old. He was told that he was doing God’s work by being a soldier, cleansing his country by killing and defending his family and neighbors from southern aggressors.
His trial is one of the most momentous in the ICC’s 14-year history and raises difficult questions of responsibility and blame. He is the first defendant to be both an alleged perpetrator and victim of the same crimes.
Ongwen was directly involved in many attacks on civilians and allegedly played a crucial role in the abduction of children in order to maintain the fighting strength of the LRA, according to ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. He faces a total of 70 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder and enslavement. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison, or a life sentence could be imposed.
Out of the four senior LRA leaders indicted by the ICC more than a decade ago, including Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, only Kony and Ongwen are still alive. Kony remains elusive despite a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
The LRA rebel outfit terrorized communities in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
It ravaged northern Uganda for two decades, killing tens of thousands, raping women, abducting children and displacing thousands.
The group has been blamed for the deaths of around 100,000 people and the abduction of 60,000 children. It relied on the abduction of largely defenseless villagers and refugees, including children, to provide labor and combatants. Girls were forced into sexual and domestic slavery while boys were forced to take up arms.
Lakareber Eunice, a victim of LRA atrocities in the northern Ugandan city of Gulu, said justice must be delivered.
“Ongwen’s role in the atrocities committed against us is not in question. What could be clearer than demanding justice in the face of these crimes against humanity? We need to know whether he is guilty or not,” Eunice said.
The ICC will hear more closing statements in the case on Wednesday.
Source: Anadolu Agency