The International Criminal Court on Thursday convicted a one-time child soldier who morphed into a brutal commander in the notorious Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity, ranging from multiple murders to forced marriages.
Dominic Ongwen, who was abducted by the shadowy militia as a 9-year-old boy and transformed into a child soldier and later promoted to a senior leadership rank, faces a maximum punishment of life imprisonment after being convicted of 61 offenses.
The judgment, which can be appealed, outlined the horrors of the LRA’s attacks on camps for displaced civilians in northern Uganda in the early 2000s, and of Ongwen’s abuse of women who were forced to be his “wives.” Activists welcomed his convictions for crimes against women, which included rape, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery.
Defense lawyers had argued that Ongwen was a “victim and not a victim and perpetrator at the same time.”
But Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt rejected those arguments, saying: “This case is about crimes committed by Dominic Ongwen as a fully responsible adult, as a commander of the LRA in his mid- to late 20s.”
Schmitt described the reign of terror unleashed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which was founded and led by one of the world’s most-wanted war crimes suspects, Joseph Kony.
Female civilians captured by the group were turned into sex slaves and wives for fighters. The LRA made children into soldiers. Men, women and children were murdered in attacks on camps for internally displaced people.
“Civilians were shot, burned and beaten to death,” Schmitt said as he detailed a May 2004 attack on a camp in the Ugandan village of Lukodi carried out by fighters commanded by Ongwen.
Kony promoted Ongwen to the rank of colonel after the attack.
Scores of Lukodi residents gathered around a portable radio to follow the proceedings in The Hague. Some broke down, weeping, when the guilty verdicts came in, according to a local journalist at the scene.
Ongwen showed no emotion as the verdicts were read in court. Usually, defendants are ordered to stand as the presiding judge reads out the verdicts. In Ongwen’s case, there were so many that he was allowed to remain seated.
“The LRA terrorized the people of northern Uganda and its neighboring countries for more than two decades. One LRA leader has at last been held to account at the ICC for the terrible abuses victims suffered,” said Elise Keppler, associate director of the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch.
Reacting to the convictions, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said her thoughts were with victims of LRA atrocities.
Bensouda acknowledged that Ongwen was once an LRA victim but said he grew into “one of the most senior military leaders, fervently committed to the LRA cause with infamous brutality. As an adult, he was personally responsible for encouraging and committing against others the very crimes that he himself suffered as a child. As proven at trial, he was also a direct perpetrator of terrible sexual violence, including against young girls, some of whom were forcibly “married” to him.”
Delphine Carlens, a deputy director at the International Federation for Human Rights, said that Ongwen’s convictions for rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and forced pregnancy constitute “a great advancement in the international recognition of the gravity of such crimes and an important result of the prosecutor’s policy on sexual and gender-based crimes.”
The Lord’s Resistance Army, which began in Uganda as an anti-government rebellion, is accused of atrocities including mass killings, recruiting boys to fight and keeping girls as sex slaves. At the peak of its power, the group was a notoriously brutal outfit whose members for years eluded Ugandan forces in the bushland of northern Uganda.
When military pressure forced the LRA out of Uganda in 2005, the rebels scattered across parts of central Africa. Reports over the years have claimed Kony was hiding in Sudan’s Darfur region or in a remote corner of Central African Republic, where LRA fighters continued to kill and abduct in occasional raids on villages, and where Ongwen was arrested in 2015.
Kony became internationally notorious in 2012 when the U.S.-based advocacy group Invisible Children made a viral video highlighting the LRA’s crimes. By that time the group had already been weakened by defections as it splintered into smaller, highly mobile groups. Uganda’s military estimated in 2013 that the group comprised no more than a few hundred fighters.
“Today’s verdict is a reminder that the LRA’s chief leader, Joseph Kony, remains a fugitive who has evaded justice for more than 15 years,” Keppler said, calling on nations to recommit to bringing him to justice at the ICC.”
Invisible Children said this week that 108 children abducted by the LRA remain missing.
Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, chairman of the northern Ugandan district of Gulu, told The Associated Press there were “mixed reactions” among local people.
Some were sad that Ongwen faces years in prison despite himself being a victim of the insurgency, he said, while many others wept for children they don’t expect to see again.
“There are so many children who remain unaccounted for. When such a thing happens, it brings back painful memories,” Mapenduzi said, referring to Ongwen’s conviction.
Mapenduzi said he has a nephew who was abducted in 1996, and the boy’s mother still “screams” his name some days, looking for him.
“From 1996 up to now, we don’t know whether he is dead or alive,” the official said.
Associated Press writer Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, contributed reporting.
Nigeria collapsing, agitations should be solved through dialogue — Bishop
Bishop Hilary Dachelem, of the Catholic Diocese of Bauchi in Nigeria, expressed concern over the ongoing killings in Nigeria, adding that the country is falling apart.
The bishop, who spoke at a press conference at St. John’s Cathedral in the diocese of Bauchi on Thursday, May 6, urged the government to dialogue with various groups agitating in the country, rather than sweeping it aside under the carpet.
Noting that in the past, crime was minimal in the country, Bishop Dachelem said: “This is certainly not the Nigeria we used to know; we are facing a different Nigeria. The Nigeria we used to know was a free country and it was not as if there was no crime then but it was minimal and not at the alarming rate that it is now.
“There were pockets of issues but they were not too overwhelming. Those who were into crime and criminality were very insignificant compared to the entire number; but now, I don’t know if the majority of us are criminals, more or less.
“In the former Nigeria we knew, you could go anywhere at any time; we had armed robberies but they weren’t as prevalent as what we have today, so much, that a governor is afraid of traveling, even a governor is attacked by bandits
“If a governor who has all the paraphernalia of security at his disposal is also suffering from this, if we don’t do anything, we know that we are already heading for a doom.
“Nigeria is indeed sick because it doesn’t carry the integrity of a federal nation; it doesn’t carry what a corporate nation should be. Nigeria is not okay, not what it should be, something is definitely wrong somewhere.
“If you open the television, people want to know ‘where is the place that people have been kidnapped, who and who have died? How many? Where?’ This is the anxiety that people are attacked because we have acculturated ourselves with the culture of death and it is sad.
“If we are comfortable with the culture of death, one day, we will kill everybody and all of us will wake up and there is no Nigeria.
Speaking of the secessionist movement underway in the southern regions of the country, the bishop said; “Agitations by various groups across the country should not be swept under the carpet but must be solved through dialogue.”
Nigeria has witnessed a series of attacks by Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorists, including Fulani herders who seek to transform the Africa’s most populous nation into an Islamic state.
Dachelem added that, “Nigeria is a nation that is collapsing, almost a nation in moribund with the way it is going”.
Do not assist or sell weapons to Nigeria — Kanu writes to US
The rights activist and leader of the indigenous peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, has called on the United States not to assist or sell arms to Nigeria.
Muhammadu Buhari, the President of Nigeria in April asked for assistance and arms from the United States, saying it was for fighting terrorism in the country.
But in a letter dated May 1, 2021, Kanu listed the reasons why United States President Joe Biden should decline the request.
The letter to Biden reads as follows:
Honorable Joe Biden
United States of America
The White House
Re: REQUEST FOR UNITED STATES MILITARY ASSISTANCE BY PRESIDENT MOHAMMADU BUHARI OF NIGERIA
Dear Mr. President:
We, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) applaud your election as President of the United States, the most powerful office in the history of the world. We salute your adept and muscular discharge of presidential duties during your tenure in the White House.
Mr President, as you consider Buhari’s request for military assistance to Nigeria, we respectfully urge you to also consider the following:
1. President Buhari has made Nigeria the most dangerous country in the world for Christians, Jews and Nigeria’s indigenous peoples, particularly those of the former Republic of Biafra. Hundreds of thousands are routinely plundered, tortured or killed with impunity by Nigerian security forces controlled and populated by Buhari’s Fulani Islamic tribesmen, often in collaboration with Fulani herdsmen (Islamist terrorist group that has been internationally branded the 4th deadliest terrorist grouping in the world). These atrocities have been confirmed and published by US State Department in its various Human Rights Reports on Nigeria, by Amnesty International and other credible bodies. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended listing Nigeria as a country of concern because of its religious oppressions. United States sales or transfers of weapons to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram are diverted to killing and terrorizing Christians and Jews. The Nigerian army, which leadership is Fulani and Islamist is complicit in these illicit transfers.
2. President Buhari is promoting radical Islam in secular Nigeria. He has endorsed Sharia law in twelve northern Nigerian states. He has treated Boko Haram with kid gloves, releasing from detention hundreds arrested by the previous administration. He recruited them into Nigerian army and offered generous foreign scholarship to hundreds of them. He has appointed radical Muslims to head every security agency in Nigeria, including Sheik Isa Pantami whose profuse support for Al Qaeda and Taliban was widely published recently. Yet, Mr Buhari has refused to sack him from his sensitive position as Minister of Communication overseeing the biometric data of Nigerians. By defending Sheik Pantami, Mr Buhari is seemingly aligning with Mr Pantami’s terrorist sympathies. Mr Buhari is a strong ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran and China; and he has generally pursued policies that put Nigeria at odds with US national interest since you came to office.
3. President Buhari is conducting a genocidal campaign against tens of millions of Christians and Jews, particularly those indigenous to the former Republic of Biafra. These include mass killings, torture, and the destruction of Christian schools, churches and Jewish synagogues. He has arbitrarily branded and terrorized the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a nonviolent group pursuing the Independence of the former Republic of Biafra. Mr Buhari’s draconian measures were geared to retaliating against peaceful demonstrations favoring the restoration of Biafran independence that was cruelly extinguished by a genocidal military campaign Buhari partly led between 1967 and 1970. He has concocted treason charges against IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu to crush Biafran self-determination, despite the fact that self-determination is legal under Nigerian law. Mr. Buhari’s demonic rule is convulsing Nigeria and creating new safe havens for radical Islamic terrorists that pose potent threat to US interests, from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea.
1, We respectfully suggest that you consider, among other things, denying weapons sales or transfers to Nigeria under the Leahy Amendment; listing Nigeria complicit in persecuting Christian and Jews under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
2, We respectfully urge Mr President to invoke particularly Section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, which prohibits the furnishing of assistance authorized by the FAA and the Arms Export Control Act to any foreign security force unit where there is credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.
In conclusion, we state categorically that the national interests of the United States lie in protecting Christians and Jews in Nigeria, defeating radical Islam and preventing instability in West Africa which will altogether be enhanced by a US-led diplomatic pressure on the Nigerian government to – as a matter of urgency – agree to a UN-supervised referendum on Biafran Independence.
We wish you and your family many wonderful years in the White House.
Mazi Nnamdi Kanu
Leader, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)
Rwanda in talks to produce COVID-19 vaccines
The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently seeking to establish permanent vaccine production capacity in regions where this is currently mostly absent.
Under the initiative targeting low and middle-income countries, WHO plans to expand capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines and scale-up manufacturing to increase global access.
President Paul Kagame this week told the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, co-chaired by Helen Clark and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, that the only way to ensure vaccine equity is to produce more vaccines where they are needed.
“Rwanda is working with partners to bring the first mRNA manufacturing facility to Africa. So long as Africa remains dependent on other regions for vaccines, we will always be at the back of the queue, whenever there is scarcity,” President Kagame said.
Dr. Tharcisse Mpunga, Rwanda’s Minister of State in Charge of Primary Healthcare, said, “The government is looking for a way to produce the vaccine from Rwanda. It is one way to acquire the vaccine for Rwanda but also for Africa. There is hope. Rwanda is negotiating with partners who are willing to manufacture the vaccines from Rwanda. I cannot say exactly when but there is hope that the negotiations will be fruitful.”
Rwanda needs at least 13 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate 60 percent of the population, about 7.5 million people, by June 2022. So far, only 4 percent have received the first dose of the vaccine.
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