The Hague (AFP) – A top commander of Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army will go on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in December charged with keeping sex slaves and recruiting child soldiers, among other crimes.
Dominic Ongwen, himself a former child soldier who became one of the most LRA’s most feared leaders, is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity over his role in the group’s reign of terror in northern Uganda between 2002 and 2005.
His trial will start on December 6, the Hague-based ICC said, adding that prosecutors would start presenting their evidence in January.
Ongwen, who surrendered early last year and was handed over to the ICC, is the only senior LRA commander currently in the court’s custody.
The LRA’s elusive chief Joseph Kony, who has also been charged by the ICC with war crimes, is the subject of a decade-long manhunt.
In March, the ICC confirmed 70 charges against Ongwen, saying there were “substantial grounds” to believe that he was responsible for crimes including murder, rape, sexual slavery, torture and conscripting children under the age of 15.
Ongwen was once Kony’s deputy and one of the top commanders of the LRA, which is accused of slaughtering more than 100,000 people and abducting 60,000 children in a bloody rebellion against Kampala.
Prosecutors accuse him of being the “tip of the spear” of the group that has sown terror across several countries in central and eastern Africa.
The LRA first emerged in northern Uganda in 1986, when it took up arms in the name of the Acholi ethnic group against the government of President Yoweri Museveni.
Over the years it has moved freely across porous regional borders, shifting from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before heading into northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and finally crossing into southeastern Central African Republic in March 2008.
Combining religious mysticism with astute guerrilla tactics and bloodthirsty ruthlessness, Kony has turned scores of young girls into his personal sex slaves while claiming to be fighting to impose the Bible’s Ten Commandments.
Born in 1975, Ongwen was transferred to The Hague more than a year ago, shortly after he unexpectedly surrendered to US special forces operating in the Central African Republic.