A former senior rebel commander from the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda will appear before the International Criminal Court on Thursday for a hearing to decide whether his war crimes trial should go ahead.
Dominic Ongwen, who gave himself up in the Central African Republic in January 2015 after years on the run, is accused of participating in the LRA’s alleged crimes, including kidnapping and the enslavement and rape of children.
Under its chief Joseph Kony, the LRA first took up arms against Uganda in the 1980s, gaining a reputation for massacres and mutilating victims.
Prosecutors accuse Ongwen of planning or directly leading attacks against four camps in northern Uganda in 2003 and 2004 as well as of kidnapping children to serve as soldiers, forced wives or sex slaves to LRA commanders.
Thursday’s confirmation of charges hearing is a test for prosecutors who must convince judges that their decade-old case, hastily reinvestigated since Ongwen’s surrender a year ago, is strong enough to merit a full trial on the facts.
“People were murdered, dreadfully wounded and maimed. Houses were burned, but above all, people were abducted, either to become fighters in the LRA or to become sex slaves,” prosecution lawyer Ben Gumpert said in a video statement.
However, Ongwen only rose through the insurgent group’s ranks after himself being kidnapped at the age of 10, a fact that makes him an awkward target for a court set up 13 years ago to hold the powerful to account for very grave crimes.
Gumpert said Ongwen’s own history was by no means unusual and did not mean he merited special treatment.
“Almost every LRA fighter …. by the period 2002-05 had himself or herself been abducted,” Gumpert said. “It is in order to try to strike at that continuing evil that the prosecutor is keen to prosecute crimes arising from conscription.”
Defence lawyers will push at a session next week for the charges against Ongwen to be thrown out.
Former LRA chief Kony was also indicted by the court in 2005 and remains one of the world’s most notorious fugitives from justice, along with several other members of the insurgent group who were charged at the same time.