Ongwen to know charges he faces, confirm identity at ICC.

Ongwen to confirm his identity and choose the language to be used in the proceedings.

A handout picture taken and released on January 17, 2015 at an undisclosed location in the Central African Republic by the Uganda People’s Defence Force shows captured Lord’s Resistance Army rebel chief Dominic Ongwen (second right), flanked by a representative of the Central African Republic Glaisian Kalengo (third right). Ongwen faced judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Monday. PHOTO | AFP.

THE HAGUE

Notorious former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen faces International Criminal Court judges for the first time on Monday, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ongwen, a child soldier-turned-warlord, is the first leader of the brutal Ugandan rebel army led by the fugitive Joseph Kony to appear before the court in The Hague.

He was transferred to the ICC last week following his surrender to US special forces in the Central African Republic.

Known as the “White Ant”, Ongwen was one of the main leaders of the LRA, which is accused of killing more than 100,000 people and abducting some 60,000 children in a bloody rebellion that started in 1987.

He has been wanted for war crimes for almost a decade by the ICC, and the United States had offered a $5 million (4.3 million euros) reward for his capture.

During the initial hearing at 1300 GMT, presiding judge Ekaterina Trendafilova will ask Ongwen to confirm his identity and decide which language will be used in the proceedings.

He will also be informed of the charges against him, ahead of a confirmation of charges hearing.

STILL AT LARGE

LRAOngwen was a senior aide to LRA leader and warlord Kony, who is still at large and being pursued by regional troops and US special forces.

Ongwen’s surrender dealt a major blow to the LRA’s three-decade campaign across several central African nations.

He has been sought by the ICC to face charges that also include murder, enslavement, inhumane acts and directing attacks against civilians.

His capture has been widely hailed by rights groups and the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who said it took the world “one step closer to ending the LRA’s reign of terror” in the restive African Great Lakes region.

Ongwen was abducted by the LRA at the age of 10 while on his way to school and turned into a child soldier, before rising through the ranks to become one of its top commanders.

He apparently got his nickname because he was born in the rainy season, “in the time of the white ant”.

HIMSELF A VICTIM
Rights groups have pointed out that the fact Ongwen was initially himself a victim may be a mitigating factor, should he be found guilty and sentenced.

“The ICC has accused him, in part, of the same crimes that were initially perpetrated against him,” said Washington-based independent researcher Ledio Cakaj, who has researched the LRA extensively.

Over the years, the LRA has moved across the porous borders of the region, shifting from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before moving to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and finally crossing into the southeast of the Central African Republic in March 2008.

Combining religious mysticism with an astute guerrilla mind and bloodthirsty ruthlessness, Kony has turned scores of young girls into his sex slaves while claiming to be fighting to impose the Bible’s Ten Commandments.

Ongwen commanded troops who excelled in punishment raids, slicing off the lips and ears of victims as grim calling cards.

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