ICC judges will sentence former soldier who has become commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army for litany of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Uganda.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) must convict Dominic Ongwen, a former child soldier who became one of the top commanders of the rebel Lord Resistance Army (LRA), for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Uganda .
In February he was 45 years old found guilty of 61 charges, including murder, rape and sexual slavery during a reign of terror in the early 2000s by the LRA, led by fugitive Joseph Kony.
Prosecutors have called for a 20-year prison sentence, saying Ongwen’s own history as a school kidnapped by the LRA justifies a sentence of less than the maximum 30 years of life allowed by the ICC.
“This is a circumstance that differentiates this case from all other courts in this court,” ICC prosecutor’s attorney Colin Black said in a sentencing hearing in the Netherlands-based court in the April.
The defense is seeking a ten-year prison sentence for Ongwen, who went by the war name “White Ant” during his soldiers’ attacks on refugee camps in northern Uganda.
Victims of their crimes have asked the court to impose the full life sentence.
Ongwen told the court that the LRA forced him to eat blood-soaked beans from the first people they had to kill as part of a brutal initiation after his own nine-year kidnapping.
“I am facing this international tribunal with so many charges and yet I am the first victim of child abduction. Not even what happened to me, I don’t think happened to Jesus Christ, “said Ongwen.
His relatives told Al Jazeera earlier this year that at the time the rebels took many children.
“We pray that he will be forgiven,” said Johnson Odonga, Ungwen’s uncle.
The LRA was founded 30 years ago by former Catholic altar and self-proclaimed prophet Kony, who launched a bloody rebellion in northern Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni. It has now been largely removed.
But his brutal campaign to establish a state based on Kony’s interpretation of the Ten Commandments of the Bible left more than 100,000 people dead and 60,000 children abducted, according to the United Nations. The violent campaign eventually spread to Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic (CAR).
Judges said in the February verdict that Ongwen personally ordered his soldiers to carry out mass killings of more than 130 civilians in the Lukodi, Pajule, Odek and Abok refugee camps between 2002 and 2005.
Civilians were locked up at home and burned to death or beaten during the murders, while mothers had to carry LRA loot, forcing them to abandon their children on the side of the road.
Ongwen was also the first person convicted by the ICC of the crime of forced pregnancy to kidnap and rape so-called “wives,” some of whom were minors.
Prosecutor Black said Ongwen’s own history as a child soldier “in no way diminishes the seriousness of the crimes or diminishes his criminal guilt.”
“However, we consider them to be exceptional individual circumstances that justify a significant reduction in the sentence,” he added.
Ongwen surrendered to U.S. special forces that hunted Kony in the CAR in early 2015.