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Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, waits for the judge to arrive as he made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. © (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)

(The Hague) – The International Criminal Court’s trial of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Dominic Ongwen, in which a verdict is due on February 4, 2021, has been a significant step toward justice for atrocities committed by the group in northern Uganda, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch issued a Question-and-Answer document and a feature article on the trial on January 27.

The Question-and-Answer document provides details on Ongwen’s background, as well as key issues that emerged during the trial, which ran from December 2016 to March 2020. It also addresses the trial’s implications for Uganda, the LRA, and the ICC. The feature article explores the challenges of sentencing Ongwen in the event of conviction. Ongwen was kidnapped by the LRA as a child and forced to become a soldier, and was therefore a victim as well as an alleged rights abuser.

“The fact the ICC will soon issue the verdict in its first trial of an LRA leader is important progress toward holding accountable a rebel group that has caused mayhem in Uganda and several nearby countries for years,” said Elise Keppler, associate International Justice director at Human Rights Watch. “It also highlights the challenges to delivering accountability when a child victim grows up to become a leader of such a group.”

Ongwen, who was a senior LRA commander, is the first LRA leader to be tried before the ICC. He is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, and torture. Ongwen is the only LRA leader charged by the ICC in custody. The leader of the group, Joseph Kony, is an outstanding fugitive and three other people charged are declared to be or presumed dead.

The LRA originated in 1987 in northern Uganda among communities in the Acholi region of the country, who suffered serious abuses at the hands of successive Ugandan governments. The campaign against the government of Uganda initially had some popular backing, but support waned in the early 1990s as the LRA became increasingly violent against civilians.

Tens of thousands of Ugandan civilians were either killed by the LRA or during the LRA’s fighting with Uganda’s armed forces, and more than 1.9 million people were displaced from their homes. The group abducted some 25,000 Ugandan children, primarily for use as child soldiers, or to be forced into child marriages with LRA commanders.

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