The Hague — The International Criminal Court unveiled on Thursday 60 new war crimes charges against the deputy leader of Uganda’s brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, including using child soldiers and keeping sex slaves. “The prosecution gave formal notice that it intends to expand the scope of the charges against Dominic Ongwen,” the Hague-based court said.
It plans to file the additional charges on December 21 on top of seven initial accusations — meaning he now faces a total of 67 counts. Ongwen is the first leader of the brutal Ugandan rebel army — led by the fugitive Joseph Kony — to appear before the ICC, which was set up to try the world’s worst crimes.
The charges all relate to attacks carried out on camps housing people who had been forced to flee their homes in the bloody Ugandan rebellion that started in 1987. More than 100 people — many of them babies and children — died in the attacks on four camps between October 2003 and June 2004.
In one of the attacks at Lukodi camp in northern Uganda “many civilians including children were burnt alive in huts that LRA fighters set on fire”, prosecutors said in court papers detailing the new charges. “The attackers threw more than 20 babies in the bush” while others were “put in sacks, including children whose necks were broken first, and thrown into the bush”.
Many “victims also had no choice but to submit to rape, enslavement and sexual slavery,” the prosecution said.
“Non-compliance with demands for sex and the performance of domestic tasks would result in harsh beatings or other forms of abuse, as would attempts at escape.” Known as the “White Ant”, Ongwen was one of the most senior commanders of the LRA, which is accused of killing more than 100,000 people and abducting 60,000 children.
The former child-soldier-turned-warlord has been wanted for war crimes for almost a decade by the ICC. He surrendered to US special forces in the Central African Republic in January, after Washington placed a $5m bounty on his head. US troops have also been leading a campaign to try to flush Kony out of the jungles and bring him to justice.
Ongwen, born in 1975, appeared for the first time before ICC judges shortly after his transfer to The Hague in late January. But the ICC’s judges — in a bid to bring the court hearings closer to victims who often watch from afar — recommended earlier this month that a hearing to determine whether Ongwen should go on trial, should be held in Uganda.
Ongwen has not been required to enter a plea yet, and will only be asked to do so should his trial get under way. He was abducted by the LRA as a child while on his way to school and became a child soldier before rising through the ranks to become one of its top commanders. The ICC also announced it has dropped the case against Ongwen’s fellow LRA leader Okot Odhiambo, after receiving confirmation he had been killed by Ugandan forces in October 2013.
Over the years the LRA has moved across the porous borders of the region, shifting from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before moving to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and finally crossing into the southeast of the Central African Republic in March 2008. Combining religious mysticism with astute guerilla tactics and bloodthirsty ruthlessness, Kony has turned scores of young girls into his sex slaves while claiming to be fighting to impose the Bible’s Ten Commandments. — AFP