International prosecutors accused a former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander on Thursday of abducting children to be raped, enslaved or trained as soldiers in its long campaign against the Ugandan government.
Dominic Ongwen, himself a kidnap victim and former child soldier who rose through the ranks of Joseph Kony’s rebel group, also faced accusations of slaughtering civilians among 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Thursday’s confirmation of charges hearing is a test for prosecutors who must convince judges that their case, hastily reinvestigated since Ongwen’s surrender last January after years on the run, is strong enough to merit a full trial on the facts.
Prosecution lawyer Ben Gumpert said Ongwen had “significantly” contributed to “terrifying” attacks on four displaced persons camps into which civilians had been driven by the LRA’s bloody campaign.
“Large numbers lost their lives in indiscriminate acts of murder,” he said. “Some were tortured in cruel ways. Hundreds were abducted to carry away the loot, and if they could not walk fast enough, they were beaten.”
Nursing mothers who could not keep up had their babies torn from them and left behind in the bush, he said.
A video taken by Ugandan authorities showed thatched huts burned to the ground and bodies in shallow graves in the aftermath of an attack.
Ongwen, born in 1975, was visibly ill at ease in an environment very different from that in which he had spent most of his life since being abducted aged 10.
He rose briefly to confirm that he did not need to hear the charges read.
“Whether the charges are read or not, it is all going to be a waste of time,” he said in his native Acholi language through an interpreter.
“You may speak five words and only two are true.”
Gumpert told judges the LRA had targeted children, many aged 10 or younger, because Kony regarded them as most easily moulded into the kinds of fighters he needed.
One witness, then a 10-year-old girl, was trained by Ongwen to fire weapons.
Kony was also indicted by the court in 2005 and remains one of the world’s most notorious fugitives from justice.
Several other indicted members of the group, which rose against Ugandan President Yoweri Musuveni in the late 1980s, are believed dead.
Lawyers for Ongwen, who pleads not guilty to the charges, will on Tuesday argue for the charges to be dropped.