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Int'l Court sentences Ugandan to 25 years for war crimes

25 years for war crimes

The International Criminal Court sentenced a Ugandan former child soldier who turned into a brutal rebel commander to 25 years' imprisonment Thursday, with judges saying that his own abduction as a schoolboy and history as a child soldier prevented him being sentenced to life.

Dominic Ongwen was convicted in February of a total of 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape, forced marriage, forced pregnancy and using child soldiers as a commander in the shadowy Lord’s Resistance Army. His lawyers have said they will appeal the conviction.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said that judges had to weigh Ongwen’s brutality and victims’ wishes for justice against his own tortured past when deciding on a sentence.

“The chamber is confronted in the present case with a unique situation. It is confronted with a perpetrator who wilfully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims," Schmitt said.

“However, it is also confronted with a perpetrator who himself had previously endured extreme suffering himself at the hands of the group of which he later became a prominent member and leader.”

Ongwen, wearing a face mask and headphones, showed no emotion as he heard that the three-judge panel had given him a sentence five years longer than the 20 years prosecutors requested.

Ongwen’s defence lawyers have always cast him as a victim of the LRA’s brutality who was traumatized after being abducted as a 9-year-old schoolboy and turned into a child soldier in the group’s violent insurgency.

But judges in February ruled that he committed the crimes “as a fully responsible adult, as a commander of the LRA in his mid- to late 20s.”

Schmitt underscored that on Thursday, saying Ongwen could have fled the LRA, was not always in a position of total subordination to its leader Joseph Kony and committed some of the crimes in private.

Ongwen abducted children and women and “distributed” them among his fighters, the judge said.

“He also kept women and girls for his own household, forcing the youngest to be his domestic servants, while those that were deemed old enough were forced to be his so-called wives, obliged to have sex with him, and bear his children,” Schmitt added.

Ongwen is the first commander of the LRA to face justice at the global court and his convictions for gender-based crimes are significant for prosecutors keen to punish such atrocities.



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