The Hague, Netherlands – Child soldier-turned-warlord Dominic Ongwen denied 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity on Tuesday when he became the first member of Uganda’s brutal Lord’s Resistance Army to ever go on trial.
A senior commander of the notorious Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army went on trial on Tuesday to face charges of organizing massacres and kidnapping thousands of children, 11 years after an international warrant for his arrest.
The commander, Dominic Ongwen, was the subject of a decade-long manhunt until he turned himself in last year, saying he feared that Joseph Kony, the founder of the group, was planning to kill him.
According to a United Nations estimate, the Lord’s Resistance Army killed more than 100,000 people, abducted 60,000 to 100,000 children and displaced more than 2.5 million civilians in four African countries from 1987 to 2012.
Ongwen, 41, is also the first former child soldier to be tried by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his role in the notorious rebel group led by the elusive Joseph Kony.
“In the name of God, I deny all these charges in respect to the war in northern Uganda,” Ongwen said, when he was asked to plead after all 70 charges containing a litany of horrific crimes were read out to him.
“I am not the LRA. The LRA is Joseph Kony who is the leader,” he told the court.
“It was the LRA who abducted people. It was the LRA who killed them,” Ongwen said, adding he was “one of the people who had crimes committed” against them.
A self-styled mystic and prophet, Kony launched a bloody rebellion against Kampala some three decades ago seeking to impose his own version of the Ten Commandments on northern Uganda.
The UN says it has slaughtered more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children since it was set up in 1987.
“The LRA leadership is reviled worldwide for its brutality against Africans, but never before has an LRA commander faced trial,” said Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch.