The International Criminal Court on Thursday confirmed the convictions of Dominic Ongwen, a former Ugandan child soldier who rose to be a commander in the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, and upheld his 25-year sentence for rape, murder and child abduction.
“The appeals chamber rejects all the defence grounds of appeal and unanimously confirms the convictions,” presiding judge Luz del Carmen Ibanez Carranza said.
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The defendant who was taken into ICC custody in 2015, was convicted and sentenced in 2021 but his lawyers had appealed both decisions.
Later, the judges also rejected all the grounds of appeal related to the sentencing.
Led by fugitive strongman Joseph Kony, the LRA terrorised Ugandans for nearly 20 years as it fought the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in northern Uganda and neighbouring countries. The militia has now largely been wiped out.
Ongwen, now in his mid-40s, was abducted as a nine-year-old and forced into a life of violence after the group killed his parents.
The defence had argued that his horrific experiences in the LRA meant he could not be held responsible for his later actions.
Judges, however, ruled that Ongwen was not under duress and acted independently at the time when he had committed the crimes he was charged with.
During the appeal hearing, the defence said the ICC was using Ongwen as a scapegoat for the crimes of LRA leader Kony, who is still at large despite being the subject of an arrest warrant from the court since 2005.
“Everything that has happened is being blamed on me,” Ongwen had said during a hearing earlier this year.
The ICC prosecutor recently said he would seek to start proceedings against Kony and intensify efforts to bring him to trial.
Prosecutors and lawyers for the more than 4,000 victims participating in the case have asked judges to uphold the conviction and sentence.
The ICC was established in 2002 to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violations.