Wednesday 20 November 2019

Rebel leader arrives at The Hague

The town of Obo in the Central African Republic, where Dominic Ongwen surrendered (AP)
The town of Obo in the Central African Republic, where Dominic Ongwen surrendered (AP)

A commander from a fearsome Ugandan rebel group known for abducting and torturing children was taken into custody at the International Criminal Court.

Dominic Ongwen, who was flown out of Africa yesterday, faces charges including murder and enslavement.

His arrival in The Hague marks the first time a member of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which is led by the notorious warlord Joseph Kony, has faced international justice.

Mr Ongwen's transfer from the Central African Republic "is a welcome development in the international community's campaign to counter the LRA's dehumanising violence, and to bring perpetrators to justice after more than two decades of the LRA's brutal campaign of torture, rape and murder," US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said.

The court did not immediately confirm Ongwen's arrival at its detention centre near the Dutch North Sea coast, two weeks after he surrendered in the Central African Republic.

Ongwen will undergo medical tests and will probably make his first court appearance within days.

His extradition comes nearly a decade after authorities first charged him and four other LRA senior commanders. Three have since died and only Kony remains at large.

Ongwen has been accused of atrocities against civilians in Uganda and in parts of Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo.

For more than a quarter of a century, the LRA has terrorised central Africa with a campaign of killings, torture, kidnappings, using child soldiers and sex slaves.

"The transfer of Dominic Ongwen to the ICC is a major step for those affected by the LRA's long history of crimes," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"All eyes will now be on the ICC to deliver fair, meaningful justice that will resonate with the LRA's victims."

After years of hiding in the remote forests of central Africa, Ongwen said it was time to face the charges against him. He surrendered on January 6 in the Central African Republic.

"I did not want to die in the bush, so I decided to follow the right path and listen to the calling of the ICC," said Ongwen, in the Acholi language on a video taken by the Ugandan army.

His surrender is seen as a severe blow to Kony and the LRA, who are being hunted down by the Ugandan army with help from American military advisers.

The US placed a 5 million US dollar (£3.3 million) reward for information leading to Ongwen's capture. Rebels in a remote corner of Central African Republic where he was found say they handed him over to authorities and now deserve the reward money.

"Today's developments give hope - to the survivors, to the four countries affected by the LRA, and to their partners around the world - that the nightmare of the LRA can be brought to an end," US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We call on the remaining LRA members to follow the lead of the more than 250 individuals who have left the LRA since 2012 to put down their arms and return home."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Ongwen's transfer to the International Criminal Court.

He called it "a step forward in efforts to bring justice to the thousands of victims of LRA violence" in Uganda and other African countries over the past 28 years.

PA Media

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