ICC verdict against Ugandan rebel leader (February 4)

Sexual violence on unprecedented scale (Press Release)

On Thursday, February 4, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is expected to deliver its verdict in the case against Dominic Ongwen. The senior commander of Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) militia is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in 70 cases – allegedly committed in northern Uganda as of 2002. "According to the ICC, Ongwen is accused of sexual violence on an unprecedented scale," stated Lina Stotz, expert on minorities and nationalities at the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). "The LRA was known for extreme sexual violence: girls and boys were sexually enslaved by forcing them to watch and perform sexual acts – to make them submissive." Further, Stotz criticized that the trial in The Hague did not adequately address the fact that this practice also resulted in hundreds of children.

"Because of the patrilineal structures in northern Uganda, these children are seen primarily as offspring of the militiamen – which is why they are often seen as a symbol of the suffering and destruction. Also, they are often severely stigmatized, socially excluded and legally disadvantaged, for example with regard to inheritance," Stotz stated. "We expect Dominic Ongwen to be sentenced to the maximum penalty. His past as a former child soldier should not mitigate the sentence: A man of his rank could have prevented certain practices, especially acts of sexualized violence – but he didn't."

At the same time, the human rights organization demanded that the process of coming to terms with the conflict must not end with this trial. "In Uganda itself, there is an urgent need for further steps to resolve the conflict. Thus, the government should finally establish a truth commission, and this commission should pay special attention to the youngest victims of the conflict: the children who were conceived in rape. These and all other victims must be granted compensation," Stotz emphasized.

The human rights activist also hopes that children conceived in rape could at least be mentioned in the verdict, even though they are not actually recognized as victims. All over the world, there are children conceived through rape in the context of war, and these children often suffer from stigmatization and discrimination – especially when conflicts are fought along ethnic or religious lines.

The LRA rebels abducted as many as 66,000 girls and boys, and they were often forced to join the fighting and to marry the militiamen. Ongwen himself was abducted by the rebels as a child and quickly rose through the ranks of the militia. He had several "wives" and fathered several children. The LRA claimed to be pursuing a spiritual mission with their reign of violence from 1987 to 2006: They wanted to "purify" the Acholi, an ethnic group in northern Uganda.