The International Criminal Court (ICC) has sentenced Dominic Ongwen, a former child soldier who became one of the top commanders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Uganda.
The 45-year-old in February was found guilty of 61 charges including murders, rapes and sexual enslavement during a reign of terror in the early 2000s by the LRA, led by the fugitive Joseph Kony.
Announcing the 25-year prison term on Thursday, ICC presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said judges had to weigh Ongwen’s brutality with his own tortured past as a schoolboy abducted by the LRA when deciding on a sentence.
“The chamber is confronted in the present case with a unique situation. It is confronted with a perpetrator who willfully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims,” Schmitt said.
“However, it is also confronted with a perpetrator who himself had previously endured extreme suffering at the hands of the group of which he later became a prominent member and leader.”
Ongwen, who was present in The Hague-based court wearing a facemask and headphones, showed no emotion as he heard the sentence handed down to him.
Prosecutors had asked for a 20-year prison term for Ongwen, saying his own history justified a lower sentence than the maximum 30 years to life allowed by the ICC.
Victims of his crimes had asked the court to impose the full life sentence, however, while the defence had sought a 10-year prison term.
Ongwen, who went by the nom de guerre “White Ant” during attacks by his soldiers on refugee camps in northern Uganda, had told the court the LRA forced him to eat beans soaked with the blood of the first people he was made to kill as part of a brutal initiation following his own abduction aged nine.
“I am before this international court with so many charges, and yet I am the first victim of child abduction. What happened to me I do not even believe happened to Jesus Christ,” Ongwen said.
His relatives told Al Jazeera earlier this year that many children were taken by the rebels at the time.
“We pray that he is forgiven,” Johnson Odonga, Ongwen’s uncle, said.
The LRA was founded 30 years ago by former Catholic altar boy and self-styled prophet Kony, who launched a bloody rebellion in northern Uganda against president Yoweri Museveni. It has now largely been wiped out.
But its brutal campaign to set up a state based on Kony’s interpretation of the Bible’s 10 Commandments left more than 100,000 people dead and 60,000 children abducted, according to the United Nations. The violent campaign eventually spread to Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.—Al Jazeera