Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) appears at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, on December 6, 2016 © AFP - PETER DEJONG / File picture
A former Ugandan child soldier who became a commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army was convicted on Thursday of dozens of crimes, including widespread rape, sexual enslavement, child abductions, torture and murder, including killings of babies.
Dominic Ongwen was found guilty by the International Criminal Court of 61 out of 70 alleged counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. A hearing in mid-April will consider a possible sentence, which could be up to life imprisonment, with a decision expected later this year.
Judges at the court said Ongwen, who himself was taken by the LRA as a young boy, had acted out of free will in committing “innumerable” crimes between 2002 and 2005, commanding several hundred soldiers.
“Mothers were forced to abandon their children in the bush. LRA fighters threw children, including babies, into the bush because the children were crying and making it difficult for their mothers to carry looted goods,” Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said, naming the victims and describing the crimes. “His guilt has been established beyond any reasonable doubt,” he said.
Ongwen, wearing a tie and face mask, sat impassively in court, sometimes with his eyes closed, listening as the judgment was read out.
In a legal first, Ongwen was also convicted for the crime of forced pregnancy for atrocities committed against seven women. “As a result of the sexual and physical violence and the living conditions to which they were submitted, the abducted women and girls suffered severe, barely imaginable physical and mental pain,” Schmitt said.
Ongwen ordered the killing and abduction of many civilians during attacks on camps protected by Ugandan government forces and personally took sex slaves, raped women and forced children to fight in hostilities, the court found.
“The LRA terrorized the people of northern Uganda and its neighbouring countries for more than two decades,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in reaction. “One LRA leader has at last been held to account at the ICC for the terrible abuses victims suffered.”
It noted that Ongwen’s superior officer, LRA head Joseph Kony, has evaded justice for more than 15 years and called on countries to help secure his arrest and transfer to The Hague for trial.
Lokman Slim, prominent Hezbollah critic, shot dead in south Lebanon
Lokman Slim pictured during an interview on FRANCE 24. © France 24
Lokman Slim, a prominent Lebanese Shiite publisher who criticised Iran-backed Hezbollah, was found shot dead in a car in southern Lebanon on Thursday, two security sources and his family said.
A judge following the case said the body of Lokman Slim had four bullets in the head and one in the back, in the first such killing of a known activist in years.
One of the security sources also said Slim, who ran a research centre and made films, was shot in the head. The second said Slim's phone was found earlier on the side of a road.
They said the motive was not immediately clear.
Slim, in his late 50s, was a leading Shiite voice who spoke against what he saw as Hezbollah's intimidation tactics and accused them of intolerance of other political views.
He was last seen after leaving the house of a poet friend on Wednesday night. His family said he went missing overnight. His wife tweeted that he was not answering his phone.
A relative said they found out about his death from a news alert while at a police station to report his disappearance.
Lebanon's caretaker interior minister told local media Slim died in "a terrifying crime" and pledged to pursue the case, which he called "an assassination".
But Slim’s sister, Rasha Al-Ameer, told FRANCE 24 that the family expects little truth to come out of such an investigation.
“The judiciary in Lebanon is not independent, so frankly, my family and myself are not expecting the investigation to lead to any [suspected] murderers,” she said, noting that “his murderers are known – he wrote about them many times”.
“We do not expect any truth from any investigation. Justice never happened in Lebanon until now […] Justice means [we have] to leave the totalitarian point of view that is prevailing in this part of the world.”
Ameer said that her brother had been aware that he was under threat for his activism, “but he never thought they would kill someone just for their ideas”.
“He said: ‘They will not do it, be courageous.’ He was courageous.”
Slim had made documentaries with his wife and led efforts to build an archive on Lebanon's sectarian 1975-1990 civil war.
In a 2018 interview with FRANCE 24, Slim detailed the methods deployed by Hezbollah to maintain its stranglehold on power among Lebanese Shiites and the wider country.
“Today, Hezbollah is in a kind of a hubris state,” he said. “At stake is not only the Shiites, Hezbollah is exerting hegemony over all communities.”
His criticism of Hezbollah faced rebuke from supporters of the heavily armed movement, who sometimes called him "an embassy Shiite," accusing him of being a tool of the United States.
Washington, which classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group, has ramped up sanctions against its officials and allies in Lebanon, part of a pressure campaign against Tehran.
Hezbollah did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Slim founded a non-profit to promote civil liberties, which had received a grant under the US Middle East Partnership Initiative and worked with an American think tank, leaked Wikileaks diplomatic cables said in 2008.
In a recent interview on Saudi's al-Hadath TV, Slim said he believed Hezbollah had a role in the port blast that ripped through Beirut in August, killing 200 people and injuring thousands.
In late 2019, Slim said his family home and offices were targeted by people gathering in the garden, chanting slurs and threats. His statement held Hezbollah's leader responsible.
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