|Born||1975 (age 41–42)
Coorom, Kilak County, Amuru district, Northern Uganda
|Other names||White Ant|
|Known for||Ex-commander in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)|
|Home town||Coorom, Kilak County, Amuru District, Northern Uganda|
Dominic Ongwen was born in 1975 in the village of Coorom, Kilak County, Amuru district, Northern Uganda. He is the ex-commander of the Sinia Brigade of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a guerrilla group that formerly operated in northern Uganda. As the head of one of the four LRA brigades, Ongwen was a member of the "Control Altar" of the LRA that directs military strategy. He is currently detained by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and has been awaiting trial. Proceedings commenced 6 December 2016.
Dominic Ongwen is almost certainly not his birth name. Like most other children of his age in Acoliland at the time, his parents would have trained him to give a false name if ever he was abducted, to protect the rest of the family.
Ongwen was abducted by the LRA as he walked to Koro Abili Primary School. According to his own testimony this happened in 1988 when he was fourteen. However, it has often been reported that he was nine or ten, and also that he was carried by other captives all the way up to the LRA’s main military bases because he was ‘too little to walk’.
Once abducted, he was tortured and forced to watch violent rituals of people being killed and subsequently indoctrinated, while still a child, as an LRA fighter. He then rose within the ranks and eventually became head of one of the four LRA brigades.
Ongwen was the lowest ranking of the five LRA leaders for whom the ICC issued their first ever warrants in June 2005. He is the only one who the court succeeded in detaining, and, with the exception of the leader, Joseph Kony, is the only one now left alive. He was initially charged with four counts of war crimes (murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population and pillaging) and three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, enslavement, and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering). The crimes were allegedly committed on or about 20 May 2004 at the Lukodi IDP Camp in the Gulu District, Uganda. The charges all relate to an attack on a camp for internally displaced people in Uganda in 2004.
On 21 December 2015, the ICC charged Dominic Ongwen with crimes in addition to those set out in the warrant of arrest: a total of seventy counts. The additional charges related to attacks on the Pajule IDP camp, the Odek IDP camp and the Abok IDP camp. The counts brought against the suspect in the context of these attacks include attacks against the civilian population, murder, attempted murder, torture, cruel treatment, other inhumane acts, enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, pillaging, destruction of property, and persecution. The expanded charges against Dominic Ongwen also include sexual and gender-based crimes committed from 2002 to 2005 in Sinia Brigade – forced marriage, rape, torture, sexual slavery, and enslavement – and the conscription and use of children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities from 2002 to 2005, in Sinia Brigade.
The charges are based on evidence which included witness statements or transcripts of interviews of a total of 123 witnesses, records of intercepted LRA radio communications, and oral testimonies of seven witnesses in September and November 2015.
Report of death
Ongwen was reported killed in combat with a unit of the Uganda People's Defence Force on 10 October 2005, and the identity of the body was confirmed by former LRA commanders. However, in July 2006, the ICC reported that genetic fingerprinting of the body confirmed that it was not Ongwen's. News reports of the time put Ongwen in southwest Equatoria, Southern Sudan, attempting to rejoin LRA head Joseph Kony in Garamba, Ituri Province, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ongwen and a former wife featured in a film Picking up the Pieces by IRIN and released in October 2007. Uganda People's Defence Force spokesperson Maj. Felix Kulayije commented, "Unfortunately, the bastard is still alive."
Capture and arrest
At the end of 2014, Ongwen escaped detention by Joseph Kony for having disobeyed Kony's orders and having refused to answer Kony's radio messages. Having escaped the camp near Songo, in Kafia Kingi, Ongwen came across nomadic cattle herders who took him to a Seleka rebel group near Sam Ouandja in CAR. The former Seleka group commander reached out to a merchant in Mboki, who in turn called an NGO worker in Obo. The latter reached out to the American Special Forces in Obo, CAR. An American helicopter dispatched to Sam Ouandja picked up Ongwen and brought him to Obo. The Seleka were initially unaware of Ongwen's identity but learned about it after the case became public in the media. The Seleka commander told the RFI he hoped to receive the promised reward of $5m. However, the reward was never paid, and the Americans never publicly acknowledged the Seleka rebels' role in the capture. Ongwen was then transferred successively to the Ugandan forces, the Central African Republic forces, and ultimately to the ICC.
During the time between his arrest and his transfer to the ICC Ongwen participated in several media activities including a radio broadcast, meetings with journalists and a video recording in which he reveals why he gave himself up.
On 26 January 2015, Ongwen made his first appearance before the ICC, but the commencement of the confirmation of charges hearing was postponed in order to allow the Prosecutor to prepare adequately for the hearing and to comply with the Chamber's instructions.
On 6 February 2015, ICC severed the proceedings against Dominic Ongwen from the case of The Prosecutor v. Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen. As the three other suspects in the case have not appeared or have not been apprehended yet, the Chamber deemed it necessary to separate the case so as not to delay the pre-trial proceedings against Mr Ongwen.
On 26 January 2016, Ongwen appeared before the ICC for a pre-trial hearing.
On 23 March 2016, the ICC confirmed the 70 charges brought against Dominic Ongwen and committed him to trial.
2026 victims have been granted the right to participate in the proceedings.
Ongwen's case is unique because he himself was abducted by the LRA and forced to be a child soldier before rising to leadership. So this is the first ICC case in which an inductee is being charged with the same crimes as those done to him.
Notes and references
- "Uganda: Q&A on Dominic Ongwen at the ICC". fidh.org.
- "LRA commander Dominic Ongwen appears before ICC in The Hague". 26 January 2015 – via www.bbc.com.
- "Ongwen trial opens at International Criminal Court". 6 December 2016 – via www.icc-cpi.int.
- "Dominic Ongwen and the Search for Justice". warscapes.com. 2 March 2016.
- Burke, Jason (27 March 2016). "Child soldier to war criminal: the trial of Dominic Ongwen" – via The Guardian.
- "The complex story of a child soldier," by Ledio Cakaj, Washington Post, 12 January 2015
- Arrest Warrant for Dominic Ongwen (public and redacted PDF) Archived September 16, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., International Criminal Court, 8 July 2005
- "Statement on Dominic Ongwen's initial appearance before the ICC - Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice". 4genderjustice.org. 26 January 2015.
- "The Prosecutor v. Dominic Ongwen". icc-cpi.int.
- "item". icc-cpi.int.
- Submission of Information Regarding Dominic Ongwen (PDF) Archived October 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., ICC, 5 October 2005
- Picking up the Pieces IRIN documentary, October 2007
- ICC Unseals Results of Dominic Ongwen DNA Tests Archived July 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., ICC Press release, 7 July 2006 and ‘Dead’ LRA chief alive Archived July 18, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., New Vision, 10 July 2006
- «Fin de cavale pour le chef de guerre ougandais Dominic Ongwen» sur Libération
- «LRA's Dominic Ongwen 'capture': Seleka rebels want $5m reward» sur le site de la BBC
- LRA commander Dominic Ongwen 'in Ugandan custody' BBC News, Africa, Retrieved 14 January 2015
- "Ugandan LRA rebel commander Dominic Ongwen to be tried at ICC: army," Daily Nation, 13 January 2015
- Dominic Ongwen reveals why he left Joseph Kony retrieved 6 March 2015
- Ongwen urges LRA comrades to surrender New Vision, 13 January 2015, retrieved 6 March 2015
- Surrendered LRA Commander Dominic Ongwen Says He Didn’t Want to Die in Bush TIME, 19 January 2015, retrieved 6 March 2015
- First Ugandan suspect, LRA Commander Dominic Ongwen, appears before the ICC Women's initiatives for gender justice 6 March 2015
- Ongwen case: Confirmation of charges hearing postponed to 21 January 2016 Archived 21 August 2015 at the Wayback Machine. ICC 6 March 2015
- "Ongwen case". icc-cpi.int.
- "item". icc-cpi.int.
- "The Dominic Ongwen Trial - Enough Project". enoughproject.org.