Ugandan victims of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have welcomed the war crimes conviction of the militant group's second-in-command. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has found LRA child soldier-turned commander Dominic Ongwen guilty on 61 charges, ranging from murder and rape to kidnapping and torture.
Among the charges Ongwen was convicted of Wednesday is the crime of conscripting children under the age of 15 into the LRA’s Sinia brigade and using them to participate in hostilities.
Oyet Vincent was 12 years old, living in the Lukodi displaced person’s camp in northern Uganda, when Lord’s Resistance Army rebels launched a war against Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in 1987.
Vincent says he and other children were abducted a total of six times and forced to fight in the war.
Vincent says he feels overwhelmed today, but adds he feels lucky to witness the verdict.
“You know, it has taken long, we have been waiting for it. I feel that justice has, it’s almost at the door site. Only that I’m now waiting for the sentence. It will also bring attention to other people that irrespective of the color, whether you are sort of big here, we are all equal before the law,” Vincent said.
Ongwen was found guilty on 61 of 70 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The charges were for his role in attacks on four internally displaced people’s camps in northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005.
He was found guilty on charges of murder, kidnapping, torture, enslavement, rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage, among many others.
Brian Kalenge, an international war crimes lawyer working with the ICC office in Uganda, says it was important that justice prevailed.
“I think this is a big step in terms of addressing, psychologically, the effects of that war. You know that we say there can be no peace without justice. So, it was very important that Ongwen was found guilty, so that we can then begin the process of reparation,” Kalenge said.
The government of Uganda lodged the case against Ongwen and other LRA leaders, including the group’s supreme leader, Joseph Kony, in 2004.
Uganda government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo says the verdict is a strong warning to all who want to take up arms, saying impunity will not be tolerated.
“It sends a signal that no matter how long it takes, justice will always prevail if evidence is properly collected and presented to courts of law. And we hope this ruling should send a signal to everybody in Uganda particularly those who want to take the course that Ongwen and the Konys took,” Opondo said, referring also to Kony's son, another LRA commander.
Kony, who is wanted by the ICC on charges similar to Ongwen’s, remains at large. He is believed to be in the Central African Republic but has not been definitively sighted in years.
Ongwen now awaits sentencing for his crimes. He faces up to 30 years in imprison.
For victims like Oyet Vincent, they now await a reparations session. However, Vincent says no amount of money can replace the hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed or lost.