Dominic Ongwen – from baby abductee to LRA insurgent commander

Dominic Ongwen is the primary LRA commander to seem earlier than the Worldwide Legal Court docket

Generally known as the “White Ant”, convicted conflict felony Dominic Ongwen is estimated to have been between 9 and 14 years previous when he was kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Military (LRA) as he was strolling to high school in northern Uganda – happening over the following 27 years to change into a ruthless insurgent commander.

Warning: Some individuals could discover particulars on this story upsetting

“It’s a story of a kid, like many within the LRA, pressured to develop up within the picture of their oppressors,” marketing campaign group LRA Disaster Tracker says.

Shortly after his abduction in 1987 or 1988, he tried to flee with three others and once they failed, he was pressured to pores and skin alive one of many different abductees as a warning, a psychiatrist at his conflict crimes trial on the Worldwide Legal Court docket (ICC) in The Hague mentioned.

“They skinned this individual, eliminated his intestine, and put it up on bushes,” Dickens Akena advised the courtroom. “And he [Ongwen] mentioned he would not eat meat for 2 to a few months.”

Ongwen – whose surname means “born on the time of the white ant” – went on to rise quickly in insurgent ranks, changing into a brigadier by his late 20s after successful the boldness of LRA chief Joseph Kony, LRA Disaster Tracker says.

However he had a fractious relationship with the LRA warlord, managing to flee his clutches in 2015 when he surrendered – 10 years after he, Mr Kony and three different senior commanders had been indicted by the ICC.

He has now been discovered responsible of 61 of the 70 counts of conflict crimes and crimes towards humanity dedicated between July 2002 and December 2005 and sentenced to 25 years in jail.

They relate to assaults on 4 camps, guarded by the safety forces, arrange for these pressured to flee their houses due to insurgent raids. He was additionally convicted of costs regarding sexual slavery and conscripting and utilizing youngsters beneath the age of 15 in hostilities.

Claiming to struggle for a biblical state, the LRA has killed greater than 100,000 individuals and kidnapped greater than 60,000 youngsters through the three-decade lengthy battle which unfold to a number of of Uganda’s neighbours.

Ongwen, who had pleaded not responsible, mentioned he ought to have been thought to be a sufferer too, telling the courtroom: “I am one of many individuals towards whom the LRA dedicated atrocities.”

‘He preferred dancing’

Described as a quiet and playful baby, his uncle, Johnson Odong, a courtroom witness, mentioned Ongwen’s dad and mom had been each useless inside a month of his abduction – his mom allegedly bludgeoned by the rebels and his father mistaken for a insurgent by the safety forces.

Major faculty trainer P’Atwoga Okello mentioned in a defence witness assertion that the boy loved cultural dance lessons “and different areas of the humanities”.

His trainer within the LRA was Vincent Otti, who went on to change into Mr Kony’s deputy, with whom he lived after his abduction, in line with tutorial Erin Ok Baines.

trainer may command fierce loyalty after indoctrinating captives by way of brutal beatings and rituals – adopted by navy coaching and looting raids, she says.

Vincent Otti pictured in 2006

LRA commander Vincent Otti was the younger captive’s first mentor

Ongwen was reportedly wanting to please, however initially struggled with the calls for of life on the hoof – the lengthy distances travelled on foot, and one ICC witness mentioned he needed to be carried throughout huge rivers.

Within the mid-Nineties he moved to what’s now South Sudan from the place the LRA performed operations. By 2001 he was a area commander and he grew to become recognized for replenishing forces by way of abduction raids in Uganda, Ms Baines says.

“[He] earned the repute of with the ability to emerge from the bloodiest of battles with few casualties amongst his fighters,” the Sufficient Mission, one other marketing campaign group, says.

Dominic Ongwen at a look:

  • Kidnapped by the LRA on his strategy to faculty

  • Rose to change into a prime commander

  • Accused of conflict crimes and crimes towards humanity, together with enslavement

  • ICC issued arrest warrant in 2005

  • US provided $5m (£3.3m) reward for data resulting in his arrest in 2013

  • Transferred to the ICC in 2015 after his give up. Discovered responsible of conflict crimes in 2021.

Has Joseph Kony been defeated?

One former abductee known as him “a troublesome fighter who was at all times on the transfer” – although with a limp from a foul leg damage.

In the course of the trial, the prosecution introduced LRA radio communications intercepted by Ugandan safety businesses, displaying how Mr Kony – who satisfied his military of abductees that his “spirits” may learn their minds – saved tight command and management over his battalions.

Auma Consolata, a former abductee of the Lord's Resistance Army, bears the scars of her encounter with the rebels who cut off her lips, nose and ears before she was able to escape back to her family (2 September 2006)

The LRA is infamous for reducing off the lips, noses and ears of civilians

“Profitable commanders had been praised by Kony and different senior officers. I keep in mind Dominic Ongwen, known as Odomi, regularly being singled out for reward,” mentioned a radio surveillance officer, whose id was saved secret.

However Ongwen additionally had a unstable relationship with Mr Kony, opposing the execution of Otti in 2007 after the 2 fell out amid stalled peace talks.

“LRA defectors report that Ongwen was the one commander who pleaded with Kony to spare Otti’s life, a transfer that weakened his affect inside the LRA,” says LRA Disaster Tracker.

“Nevertheless, Kony spared Ongwen from the next purge of Otti loyalists resulting from Ongwen’s worth to the LRA, significantly his skill to steer troops on daring missions.”

Ugandan soldier patrols on 23 February 2004 in the Lira district, where more than 200 people were killed by Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels at one of the Internally Displaced Camp

Many villages have been destroyed within the battle

The peace initiative occurred in a jungle clearing on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and what’s now South Sudan – with unbelievable footage of the rebels interacting with mediators.

Together with his trademark dreadlocks and boyish seems to be, Ongwen is seen trying on cautiously on the proceedings, which observers say in the end failed due to the refusal to withdraw the ICC’s 2005 indictments.



For some – together with his “bush spouse”, Florence Ayot – this was an injustice.

“Dominic used to inform us he was kidnapped when he was very younger. All the things he did was within the identify of Kony, so he is harmless,” she advised the BBC in 2008.

Granted amnesty after escaping from the LRA in 2005, she had been kidnapped as a nine-year-old and first grew to become the “spouse” of LRA commander Obwong Kijura, who had raped her on the age of 13.

After his demise, she advised the ICC she willingly grew to become Ongwen’s “spouse” because the LRA chief wouldn’t enable girls to dwell on their very own.

She mentioned he handled her son like his personal youngsters by his different three “wives” on the time and was by no means violent to her. They’d two youngsters collectively.

“I beloved him due to the way in which he would dwell with individuals. He was not quarrelsome, and I felt it was good for me to go to him. There was nothing I disliked about him as a result of I had not seen something improper he had performed earlier than… We lived fortunately collectively.”

‘I used to be screaming’

This jarred with testimony of seven others on the trial, together with witness P-227, one other of Ongwen’s “wives”. Kidnapped in April 2005, she was allegedly pressured to have intercourse with Ongwen a month later: “I began crying, I used to be screaming and my voice was actually loud.

“He requested why I used to be crying; he advised me if I continued crying – he confirmed me his gun… I felt like my entire physique was being torn aside.” She says she was repeatedly raped till her escape in 2010.

And escape was a harmful endeavour – the LRA would threaten to destroy your village if you happen to did so. In line with Ms Ayot’s testimony, she and Ongwen did plot to go in 2003, however their plan was found and her “husband” was positioned “beneath arrest” by Otti for a number of weeks.

Some psychiatrists on the trial felt Ongwen was affected by post-traumatic stress dysfunction and a dissociative id dysfunction on the time of the assaults on the camps, when the prosecution mentioned was he a battalion commander within the Sinia Brigade – changing into its total commander in March 2004.

ICC prosecutors quote witness testimony as saying that on a minimum of one event he ordered his males “to kill, cook dinner and eat civilians”.

Greater than 4,000 victims have participated within the trial – represented by two authorized groups – most of them former camp residents – and the trial has detailed the lives misplaced, destruction, abductions and psychological harm to those communities in northern Uganda.

Rows over household cellphone calls

With experiences of his killing in 2005 proving to be unfaithful, Ongwen remained on the run for a lot of extra years because the rebels moved west into DR Congo and its different neighbours.

In 2013, the US – which had joined the hunt for LRA commanders – provided a $5m (£3.3m) reward for data resulting in Ongwen’s seize.

Joseph Kony pictured in 2006

Dominic Ongwen is alleged to have had a unstable relationship with LRA chief Joseph Kony (pictured)

An LRA escapee alleged that Mr Kony ordered that Ongwen be severely crushed for insubordination on the finish of 2014.

In dangerous form he ultimately escaped from the LRA camp in Darfur, making it from Sudan to neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR), the place he was taken into custody.

On the time he requested for forgiveness from the Ugandan individuals, however inside 10 days he had been transferred to the ICC.

In line with Justiceinfo.internet, throughout his pre-trial incarceration he appeared to take pleasure in his likelihood to pursue an schooling, together with piano-lessons.

Although he threatened suicide and went on starvation strike in 2016 in rows over cellphone calls to his household – he had initially been barred from speaking to his youngsters.

Dominic Ongwen in court in 2020

Dominic Ongwen has typically adopted the ICC proceedings quietly

Some argue that the trial has been a proxy prosecution of Mr Kony, whose insurgent motion is far weaker nowadays however continues to be energetic exterior Uganda.

Nonetheless two variations of Ongwen emerged throughout his trial: one in all a brutal killer, the opposite of a traumatised baby soldier who grew as much as be a conflicted man.

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