The International Criminal Court (ICC) has sentenced Dominic Ongwen, a former child soldier who became one of the top commanders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Uganda.
45 year old Dominic Ongwen nicknamed ‘White Ant’ was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes including murders, rapes and sexual enslavement during a reign of terror in the early 2000s by the LRA, led by the fugitive Joseph Kony.
He is the first former Ugandan child solider to be convicted and sentenced by the International Criminal Court.
Ongwen was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group when he was nine years old and eventually became a feared commander.
At the height of his time with the LRA, Ongwen – known as White Ant because his surname means “born at the time of the white ant” – was the commander of the Sinia brigade and one of the most feared fighters in the rebel movement.
In February, he was convicted of seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder and enslavement.
The charges all relate to an attack on a camp for internally displaced people in Uganda in 2004.
In 2013, the US – which had joined the hunt for LRA commanders – offered a $5m (£3.3m) reward for information leading to Mr. Ongwen’s capture.
With reports of his killing in 2005 proving to be wrong, he remained wanted for many more years as the rebels moved west into DR Congo and its other neighbours.
In 2005, the LRA was forced out of Uganda by the army and the rebels went into what is now South Sudan. They eventually set-up camp in the border area with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They later moved to CAR where they acted more like a criminal outfit engaging in poaching and illegal mining.
Arrest warrants for Joseph Kony and other top commanders of the movement remain outstanding
Ongwen turned himself in to US forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2015 – and they later handed him over to the Ugandan army.
The White Ant who was present in The Hague-based court wearing a face mask and headphones, showed no emotion as he heard the sentence handed down to him.
Announcing the 25-year prison term on Thursday, ICC Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said judges had to weigh Ongwen’s brutality with his own tortured past as a schoolboy abducted by the LRA when deciding on a sentence.
In other words, despite the gravity of the crimes, judges sentencing Ongwen on Thursday said they decided not to give the maximum life sentence because he was abducted as a child on his way to school in the late 1980s and groomed by rebels who had killed his parents.
But they found he had knowingly committed serious crimes as an adult during the LRA’s two decade reign of terror in the 2000s.
“The chamber is confronted in the present case with a unique situation. It is confronted with a perpetrator who willfully 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.”