Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have acknowledged that Dominic Ongwen was abducted as child and conscripted into the ranks of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) ranks.
The prosecutors led by Fatou Bensouda, however, told judges at The Hague-based court that this would not exonerate Ongwen from prosecution.
They argued that Ongwen, now in his 40s, rose through the LRA ranks and became one of the most senior commanders, a position he could have exploited to denounce rebellion.
“The evidence shows that Dominic Ongwen was a murderer and a rapist,” submitted Bensouda as Ongwen’s long awaited trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity started today.
The prosecutors said they have sufficient evidence, including voice recordings from radio communications, which implicate Ongwen for crimes he committed in four different internally displaced people’s camps in Gulu, Amuru and Oyam districts in Northern Uganda.
Prosecutors further say about 30 former abductees who were under Ongwen’s command are available to testify as witnesses to the court. She said these represent large numbers of the civilian population that went through torture and suffering in the hands of Dominic Ongwen.
Earlier, Ongwen had pleaded not guilty to all the seventy counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, noting that it was LRA not Ongwen that committed the atrocities.To this, Bensouda noted that while Ongwen’s own traumatic past as a 14-year-old abductee could be a mitigating factor for judges considering a sentence if he is convicted, it cannot begin to amount to a defense or a reason not to hold him accountable for his decisions.
She said that the choice to embrace the murderous violence used by the LRA and make it a hallmark of the attacks carried out by his soldiers was entirely his.
The burden of proof, however, is on the ICC prosecutors to prove Ongwen’s involvement in all the 70 charges of crimes allegedly committed in the four case areas between 2002 and 2005.
Ongwen’s defense team is expected respond to the accusations in tomorrow’s session that will mark an end to the opening of the trial.
With Ongwen pleading not guilty, court will engage psychiatric experts to determine the mental soundness of the accused before deliberating further on his alleged criminal responsibilities as an individual within the LRA ranks
The ICC outreach office and the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) set up several live-streaming points in in Lukodi, Pajule and Odek villages in Northern Uganda as well as in Kampala.