Trial of Lord’s Resistance Army member begins in The Hague

Dominic Ongwen is being tried by the The International Criminal Court on 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He claims he was himself a victim of the organisation after he was abducted as a child.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said at the hearing "We are not here to deny that he was a victim in his youth, we will prove what he did, what he said and the impact on the many victims." Photo: Ongwen stands trial at the ICC.

The first trial of a member of the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group and spiritual cult based in Uganda and surrounding African countries, began on Tuesday at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands.

At the hearing, Dominic Ongwen was described by ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda as a "ferocious and enthusiastic" member of the movement. He has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

According to Bensouda, "Ongwen became one of the most senior commanders in the LRA … following rapid promotion for his loyal fighting and ferocity."

The evidence presented against the former warlord, who surrendered to US forces last year, included what she described as "extremely disturbing images" of violence against the inhabitants of the northern Lukodi refugee camp, showing the bodies of children who had been brutally murdered.

At Lukodi in northern Uganda, Vincent Oyet, whose house was burned down in a 2004 LRA raid, told AFP "We have been waiting almost 11 years for justice." Photo: Ugandans gather in Lukodi to watch the trial.

He is also accused of engaging in acts of sexual violence against children as young as 10 that he and his followers enslaved.

Ongwen claims that he is himself was a victim of crimes by the LRA after he was forced into the group as a child.

"It was the LRA who abducted and killed people in northern Uganda, and I am one of the people against whom the LRA committed atrocities," he said in his native Acholi, speaking through an interpreter.

His lawyers say he was under duress during his time with the LRA and therefore not criminally responsible for his actions.

But Bensouda rejected this, saying, "Having suffered victimisation in the past is not a justification or an excuse to victimise others."

TRTWorld and agencies