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Ex-child soldier, Uganda rebel leader Dominic Ongwen gets 25 years in prison

By
Don Johnson
Former Uganda militia leader and child soldier Dominic Ongwen is seen in a courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. He was sentenced to spend a quarter-century in prison on Thursday, but spared a life sentence. File Photo by Michael IKooren/EPA.
Former Uganda militia leader and child soldier Dominic Ongwen is seen in a courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. He was sentenced to spend a quarter-century in prison on Thursday, but spared a life sentence. File Photo by Michael IKooren/EPA.

May 6 (UPI) -- The International Criminal Court in The Hague sentenced former Uganda militia leader Dominic Ongwen on Thursday to 25 years in prison for war crimes.

Ongwen was facing life in imprison, but a panel of judges gave the lesser sentence mindful of the suffering he endured after he was abducted at age 10 and forced to become a child soldier.

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Ongwen, 41, was convicted of 61 crimes in February, including rape, murder, sexual enslavement, child abductions and torture.

He committed the crimes while a commander in Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army, a militia group led by fugitive warlord Joseph Kony , who proclaims himself to be the spokesperson of God. The militia led an assault against Ugandans for 20 years and fought the government from bases in northern Uganda and nearby countries.

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Presiding judge Bertram Schmitt said Ongwen was "a perpetrator who willfully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims," but also a "perpetrator who himself has previously endured extreme suffering at the hands of the group of which he later became a prominent member and leader."

Prosecutors acknowledged that Ongwen was a child soldier against his will, but argued that he later did the same thing to many other children. They also noted that he had plenty of opportunities to leave over the years, but never did.

"It cannot go unnoticed that Dominic Ongwen, despite [being] well aware of such suffering which he himself had been subjected to several years earlier and fully appreciating its wrongfulness, did nothing to spare similar experiences to other children after him," the court wrote in its 139-page ruling.

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The court decided that Ongwen, as an adult, committed a series of crimes, many against women and children who were forced into slavery.

Many of Ongwen's charges stemmed from attacks on refugee camps. His militia killed 350 civilians during a four-day raid on camps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009. About 250, including dozens of children, were abducted.

The LRA militia has now been largely eliminated, but Kony remains free despite a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

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