© Michael Kooren / Newscom

Dominic Ongwen © Michael Kooren / Newscom

Name: Dominic Ongwen

Nationality: Ugandan

Arrest Warrant Issued: Issued under seal on July 8, 2005, and unsealed on October 13, 2005

Surrendered to ICC Custody: January 16, 2015

Handed over to the International Criminal Court: January 21, 2015

Trial Start Date: December 6, 2016

Charges: Thirty-four counts of crimes against humanity and 36 counts of war crimes allegedly committed in northern Uganda between 2002 and 2005. Ongwen’s charges include responsibility for directing attacks, murder, enslavement, torture, cruel treatment, pillaging, infliction of serious bodily injury and suffering, abduction of civilian camp residents, rape, forced marriage, use of child soldiers, and other inhumane acts against civilian populations. Ongwen is accused of being part of the Lord’s Resistance Army’s (LRA) structured and efficient reporting mechanism. Therefore, some of the crimes Ongwen is being charged with are based on the principle of command or superior responsibility.

Trial end date: closing statements took place on March 10-12, 2020

Trial judgment: February 4, 2021

What is the breakdown of the charges?

The prosecutor originally charged Ongwen with three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, enslavement, and inhuman acts) and four counts of war crimes (murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally attacking a civilian population, and pillaging), all committed during a single attack in the Lukodi Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in the Gulu district of northern Uganda. Following his arrest, on September 18, 2015, the prosecutor of the ICC announced that she would charge Ongwen with additional crimes. As a result, Ongwen’s case has set a record in terms of the number of charges attributed to a single defendant at the ICC.

Of the 70 charges, 49 are location-specific and concern crimes committed in and around Gulu district IDP camps at Pajule (October 2003), Odek (April 2004), Lukodi (May 2004), and Abok (June 2004).

Ongwen is charged under four modes of criminal liability. He is charged with crimes, committed or attempted directly, alone as well as jointly with other co-perpetrators (direct individual criminal responsibility) under Article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute. The prosecution also alleges that Ongwen ordered, solicited, or induced the crimes, a mode of liability provided for in Article 25(3)(b) of the Rome Statute. He is charged with any other contribution to the commission or attempted commission of a crime by a group of persons acting with a common purpose under Article 25(3)(d). Finally, he is charged under the principle of command responsibility of Article 28(a) as a leader of the LRA.

At each of these camps, under one or more of the four modes variously, Ongwen is accused of:

  • Attacks against the civilian population as a war crime
  • Murder as a crime against humanity
  • Murder as a war crime
  • Torture as a crime against humanity
  • Torture as a war crime
  • Cruel treatment as a war crime
  • Other inhumane acts as a crime against humanity
  • Enslavement as a crime against humanity
  • Pillaging as a war crime
  • Persecution of civilians perceived by the LRA as being affiliated with, or supporting the Ugandan government

In addition to being accused of committing the above acts at each IDP camp location, at the Odek Camp, where at least 61 civilians were killed, Ongwen is additionally accused of:

  • Attempted murder as a crime against humanity
  • Attempted murder as a war crime
  • Outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime

At the Lukodi Camp, where attackers killed approximately 45 civilians, including at least 12 children, Ongwen is additionally accused of:

  • Attempted murder as a crime against humanity
  • Attempted murder as a war crime
  • Destruction of property as a war crime

At the Abok Camp, where attackers killed approximately 28 civilian residents of the camp including children, Ongwen is additionally accused of:

  • Attempted murder as a crime against humanity
  • Attempted murder as a war crime
  • Destruction of property as a war crime

Nineteen of Ongwen’s charges concern Sexual and Gender Based Crimes (SGBC). He is charged with directly committing the crimes of:

  • Forced marriage as a crime against humanity
  • Torture as a crime against humanity and war crime
  • Rape as a crime against humanity and war crime
  • Sexual slavery as a crime against humanity and war crime
  • Enslavement as a crime against humanity
  • Forced pregnancy as a crime against humanity and war crime
  • Outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime

Additional, he is charged with indirectly perpetrating the following SGBC:

  • Forced marriage as a crime against humanity
  • Torture as a crime against humanity and war crime
  • Rape as a crime against humanity and war crime
  • Sexual slavery as a crime against humanity and war crime
  • Enslavement as a crimes against humanity

Two charges relate to the use of child soldiers and include accusations of:

  • Conscription of children under the age of 15 into an armed conflict as a war crime
  • Use of children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities as a war crime

How did the ICC become involved in Uganda?

Uganda ratified the Rome Statute on June 14, 2002, and it entered into force on July 1, 2002. The ICC has jurisdiction with respect to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed on Ugandan territory or by Ugandan citizens, after the entry into force of the Statute. However, the ICC only has jurisdiction in cases where the government proves unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute those crimes.

Jurisdiction was exercised when Uganda, as a state party, referred the situation in the country to the ICC in January 2004. The government alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in the context of a conflict between the LRA and national authorities in Uganda. Former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced his intention to investigate grave crimes in northern Uganda in July 2004. Upon investigation, the OTP found that the government’s claims met the ICC’s standards of admissibility, being “sufficiently supported by the available evidence.”

Can Ongwen be prosecuted for crimes in other countries?

The case against Ongwen tests the ICC’s geographic approach to situations and investigations. The court’s approach is based on investigations limited to individual countries, whereas the LRA operates regionally, including in the DRC, South Sudan, and CAR. However, to include crimes committed in other countries, the ICC would have to formally establish jurisdiction and open investigations in each separate country, a complicated process under the ICC’s Rome Statute. Although the ICC has jurisdiction in the DRC and CAR, the prosecutor has not expanded investigations in those situations to include LRA crimes. This limits the ability of the prosecutor to investigate and prosecute LRA leaders, including Ongwen, for the full extent of their alleged crimes.

How did the ICC prosecutor investigate Ongwen?

The OTP investigation process included conducting interviews with former LRA fighters, victims who were camp residents at the time of LRA attacks, members of former UPDF detachments, former IDP camp administrators, and post-attack investigations teams, among others. The investigation focused on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the context of an armed conflict predominantly between the LRA and Ugandan national authorities, including the Ugandan People’s Front, mainly in northern Uganda, since July 1, 2002.

Initially, the case against Ongwen focused on a single attack that happened on a single day at a single location in Lukodi. However, victims participating in the case and other victims’ organizations called for an expansion of the charges and for the prosecutor to undertake additional investigations. The prosecutor announced on September 28, 2015 that she would expand the scope of the charges and continue investigations to cover three additional incidents as well as the crimes of persecution, sexual and gender-based crimes, and the conscription and use of child soldiers.

During its investigation, the OTP collected a variety of evidence to establish its case, including:

  • Victim or witness accounts
  • Radio broadcast recordings and short-wave radio communications between LRA commanders intercepted by Ugandan authorities
  • Witness statements of  48 civilians who were abducted by the LRA
  • Interview transcripts of 40 LRA insiders of various ranks
  • Witness statements of 16 members of the Uganda military or police forces
  • Statements of other individuals associated with the Ugandan authorities

The prosecution has said will rely on testimony from 120 witnesses, of whom 69 would be called to give live testimony. On June 13, 2016 the Prosecutor filed a request to admit previously recorded testimony of witnesses who have already testified to the court, which the trial chamber agreed to in August 2016.

How was Ongwen surrendered to the ICC?

An arrest warrant was issued against Ongwen, Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, and Raska Lukwiya on July 8, 2005 by Pre-Trial Chamber II on the basis of information and evidence submitted by the prosecutor that established “reasonable grounds to believe” that they ordered the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the court. On January 6, 2015, Ongwen surrendered to Central African Seleka rebels in the CAR after escaping from the LRA. He was transferred to the ICC on January 16, 2015.

On February 6, 2016, Ongwen’s case was severed from the original case Prosecutor v. Joseph Kony et. al, in order to avoid proceeding against the remaining suspects in absentia and delaying the pre-trial proceedings. The arrest warrant against Kony and Otti remain outstanding. Several reports claim that Otti has been killed. The cases against Odhiambo and Lukwiya were terminated upon official confirmation of their deaths.

Why was there opposition to Ongwen’s transfer to the ICC?

After Ongwen surrendered, there was considerable debate in Uganda as to whether he should be transferred to ICC custody. There were strong demands from Ugandan civil society groups and Ugandan victims of the LRA calling for Ongwen to face trial or receive amnesty in Uganda. Many religious and political leaders from northern Uganda expressed the view that Ongwen should receive amnesty under the Ugandan Amnesty Act, which affords amnesty to LRA defectors to spur defection and facilitate the return of abducted children to their families. (However, as explained below, this would not have applied to Ongwen because amnesties cannot be granted to those accused of grave crimes under international law.)

Members of Ongwen’s Acholi community demanded his return but called for resolution based on Acholi principles of justice. Others held that amnesty was not appropriate in this case because Ongwen was a high-level commander within the LRA.

Could Ongwen have been tried in Uganda?

Uganda has domesticated the Rome Statute in its International Criminal Court Act, which came into force in 2010. It has also set up an International Crimes Division (ICD) in its High Court to try Rome Statute crimes in addition to the offenses of terrorism, human trafficking, and piracy. However, because the Rome Statute was not domesticated until 2010, the ICC charges against Ongwen are not within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICD, and Article 28(7) of the Ugandan constitution provides that no person shall be charged with or convicted of a criminal offense that is founded on an act or omission that did not constitute an offense at the time it occurred.

As a Party to the Rome Statute, Uganda was obliged to transfer Ongwen to the ICC on the basis of his arrest warrant. However, the Ugandan government is allowed to formally challenge the ICC’s jurisdiction of the case. These procedural obligations and entitlements are based on the ICC’s principle of complementarity, which gives the ICC authority to exercise jurisdiction only where national legal systems fail to do so, including where they purport to act but in reality are unwilling or unable to genuinely carry out proceedings.

Despite the domestication of the Rome Statute, so far, none of the LRA’s top leaders have been brought before the Ugandan High Court. Although mid-level LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo faces charges of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions Act and ordinary crimes under the Ugandan penal code before the ICD, his trial has been delayed, in part, because of challenges relating to the application of Uganda’s amnesty law. This law allows rank and file members of the LRA to rejoin society without facing any sanctions so long as they renounce their membership of the rebel group. In April 2015, the Ugandan Supreme Court ruled that Kwoyelo’s trial must proceed because amnesties cannot be granted for grave crimes as recognized under international law.

On the basis of international principles and obligations, on January 17, 2015, Ongwen was escorted by an ICC delegation from CAR, where he was in custody of Ugandan forces, to the ICC detention center in The Hague. On January 20, 2015, Ongwen was formally transferred to ICC custody. After consenting to appear voluntarily before the ICC, Ongwen was transferred to the court’s detention center on January 21, 2015.

Who is paying for the Defense of Ongwen?

Under the Rome Statute, a defendant has the right to legal counsel during criminal proceedings. Ongwen is considered indigent and cannot pay for legal representation, so the court is providing legal aid during the trial. However, the decision to provide financial assistance can be reversed at any time if an investigation conducted by the court registrar reveals that the defendant can bear the cost of his counsel.

Will victims participate in this trial?

During the pre-trial proceedings, 2,026 victims were admitted to participate in the proceedings against Ongwen. In the months leading up to the beginning of the trial, another 2,083 applications from victims were admitted bringing the total to 4,109. The prosecution stated that 25 victims will also be witnesses having “dual status” in the trial proceedings.

Approximately 2,600 victims have appointed two external lawyers, including one from Uganda, to represent them in the proceedings. The remaining victims are represented by a lawyer from the internal ICC Office of Public Counsel for Victims (OPCV).

Will the ICC prosecute other suspects in Uganda?

This case was severed from a case against four other LRA leaders. The court has terminated proceedings against two of the accused, Okot Odhiambo and Raska Lukwiya after confirming their deaths. The other two accused, Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti, remain at large.

Where is the trial being held?

There are strong demands from victims’ groups to hold portions of the trial in Uganda. When the ICC prosecutor visited Uganda in May 2015, she was met with repeated requests for the confirmation of charges hearing to be held in northern Uganda to make the proceedings more accessible to the local communities victimized by the LRA. On July 13, 2015, in response to the pre-trial chamber’s request for parties to contribute observations on in situ hearings, the defense recommended that the confirmation of charges hearing be held in Gulu town in northern Uganda. The prosecution also supported an in situ hearing – nonetheless presenting a variety of factors for and against.

Despite strong recommendations from the pre-trial chamber, the ICC Presidency decided to hold the hearings at the ICC premises in The Hague, stating that potential risks of holding the hearings in Uganda outweighed potential benefits. The Presidency was particularly concerned about the significant costs of moving the proceedings to Uganda, as well as the potential for the case to be impacted by political tensions associated with the cotemporaneous Ugandan elections.

In May 2016, the defense expressed its continued support for in situ hearings, requesting, at minimum, that opening statements be held in Gulu. Within the same month, the Victim’s Legal Representatives also called for hearings in Uganda – noting that during engagements and consultations victims have expressed support for in situ proceedings. However, on July 18, 2016 the trial chamber denied these requests citing security concerns and the workload of the judges among the reasons why the trial location would remain in The Hague.

Is Ongwen a victim?

This case requires the court to confront the difficult question of how to hold to account a high-ranking member of the LRA who was also a victim of the group’s abductions and forced to become a soldier. Most of the rank and file members of the LRA are or were children who have been abducted and forced to join the group and who grew up being forced to commit acts of brutal criminality. As many commentators have noted: Ongwen’s abduction itself was a war crime; he was denied parental care; and spent formative years under the control of adults who used violence and extreme brutality as a form of discipline and punishment. Ongwen’s status as a child soldier may be considered as a mitigating circumstance for purposes of sentencing, if he is convicted.

The Rome Statute does not provide jurisdiction over crimes committed by a person under the age of 18 years, but Ongwen is being suspected of international crimes he allegedly committed as an adult and therefore faces individual criminal responsibility for his alleged actions.

The Trial

Ongwen’s trial took place in The Hague between December 2016 and March 2020. The trial chamber heard 69 prosecution witnesses, received written evidence from another 40 witnesses and entered into the trial record the testimony of seven women who testified during the pre-trial phase. The defense called 54 witnesses and the victims called seven.

On February 4, 2021, The International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Ongwen of 61 out of the 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he had been charged with committing in northern Uganda between July 1, 2002 and December 31, 2005, more than 15 years previously. Trial Chamber IX unanimously found Ongwen guilty beyond reasonable doubt and “fully responsible” for his participation or role in attacks on four camps for internally displaced people, for sexual and gender-based crimes against seven women who became his “so-called wives” and for conscripting and using children as soldiers. The chamber also found him guilty of sexual and gender-based crimes committed indirectly against other women or girls.

What is the background to the conflict in northern Uganda?

Ongwen is charged with crimes that were committed in the context of armed conflict between the Lords’ Resistance (LRA) army and The Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF), the regular military of the government of Uganda. The LRA is an organized armed group that, from at least July 2002 to December 2005, sought to overthrow the government of Uganda through armed rebellion. The LRA carried out attacks directed against the civilian population of northern Uganda. The LRA maintained its supply of soldiers through the abduction of civilians, including children under the age of 15 years. Women and girls were abducted to distribute among LRA fighters to serve as domestic slaves and/or exclusive conjugal partners.

Soon after he seized power in a coup in 1986, Uganda’s current president, Yoweri Museveni, faced rebellion from several armed groups in northern Uganda. One of the most prominent of those groups, the Holy Spirit Movement, came close to attacking Uganda’s capital, Kampala, which is located in the central part of the country. In 1987, the Holy Spirit Movement dwindled when its leader, Alice Lakwena, fled Uganda to seek refuge in neighboring Kenya. Joseph Kony, a member of the Holy Spirit Movement, took the remnants of the group and formed what would later be known as the LRA. Soon the LRA eclipsed the other armed groups operating in northern Uganda.

The LRA grew in size by continuously abducting children. The abducted boys were usually forced to fight or become porters while the girls were usually turned into sex slaves or forcibly married to men in the LRA. The group never held any territory, but it terrorized northern Uganda through its attacks on villages and towns and abduction of their children. The LRA carried out attacks in northern Uganda for more than two decades, during which the group abducted tens of thousands of children and forced them to join its ranks. At the peak of the LRA conflict in northern Uganda, between 1.1 and 2 million people were displaced from their homes. The group continues to commit crimes throughout the region, including in the DRC, South Sudan, and CAR.

The leader and commander-in-chief of the LRA was Joseph Kony. His headquarters was titled Control Altar. LRA forces were allegedly divided into four brigades named Stockree, Sinia, Trinkle and Gilva, each of which was headed by a brigade commander. LRA fighters were conditioned under threat of physical punishment to obey hierarchy and to follow orders issued by superior commanders.

In 2002, the Ugandan government launched a major military offensive against the LRA. A consequence of the conflict was the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their villages and towns as civilians got caught in the fighting between the Ugandan army and the LRA. The displaced civilians ended up living in camps for several years before eventually moving back to their villages and towns.

In 2006, the government of South Sudan, which was then an autonomous region within Sudan, initiated a peace process between the Ugandan government and the LRA. For the two or so years the South Sudanese-led process went on, the LRA fighters were based in two camps along the border of the DRC and Sudan, where they were fed and sheltered. The government of South Sudan guaranteed their security through its army, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, against attacks from the Ugandan army. The negotiating teams finalized a peace agreement but it was never signed by LRA leader Joseph Kony. He failed to show up, even though the government of South Sudan arranged several times for a secure location for him to sign the agreement. At that time, Ongwen’s current defense lawyer for his case before the ICC, Krispus Ayena Odongo, was counsel for the LRA during these negotiations.

The Accused

Dominic Ongwen: A former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader. Abducted at a young age by LRA forces, Ongwen was a long-term member of the LRA who had held a number of command positions. He is alleged to be a key member of the LRA “Control Altar,” the core leadership responsible for devising and implementing LRA strategy. Ongwen was allegedly a Major in the LRA until 2002, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 2003, and made Brigade Commander of a special unit called the Sinia Brigade in December 2004. Ongwen was born in 1975, in Coorom, Kilak County, Amuru district, northern Uganda.

Judges of Trial Chamber IX

The Prosecution

Defense Counsel for Dominic Ongwen

  • Krispus Ayena Odongo

The Office of Public Counsel for Victims

  • Paolina Massidda (also referred to as the Common Legal Representative of the Victims)

Legal Representatives of the Victims

  • Joseph Akwenyu Manoba
  • Francisco Cox


Key Groups and Organizations

Ugandan Groups

  • Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA): A militant Christian armed group, led by Ugandan national Joseph Kony that has been carrying out an insurgency against the government of Uganda. Since at least 1987, the LRA has directed attacks against the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) and against civilian populations. It is alleged that LRA forces are divided into four brigades: Stockree, Sinia, Trinkle, and Gilva. The LRA acts include murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burnings of houses, and looting of camp settlements. Abducted civilians, including children, are said to have been forcibly “recruited” as fighters, porters, and sex slaves to serve the LRA and to contribute to attacks against the Ugandan army and civilian communities.
  • National Resistance Army (NRA): The military wing of the National Resistance Movement that waged a successful armed rebellion in Uganda in 1986, under the leadership of future Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. The rebellion allegedly included fierce attacks on northern Ugandan civilians, which were said to have persisted well after victory. Many argue that these attacks led to the creation of rebel forces such as the Holy Spirit Movement and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The NRA eventually became the Ugandan national army, the UPDF.
  • Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF): Formerly known as the National Resistance Army, the UPDF is the Ugandan government’s military force.
  • The Holy Spirit Movement: A pre-cursor of the LRA, this militant Christian group was led by Alice Lakwena, who claimed the Holy Spirit had ordered her to overthrow the Ugandan government because of its treatment of the Acholi people. The movement gathered momentum, until it was militarily defeated by Ugandan government forces. As a result, Lakwena was forced into exile. Kony initially developed his following by claiming to be Lakwena’s cousin, insinuating a connection between the LRA movement and the Holy Spirit Movement.
  • Internal Security Organization (ISO): The Ugandan government’s counter-intelligence agency responsible for providing national security intelligence to Uganda’s policy makers. The ISO intercepted LRA radio communications that the prosecution is relying on as evidence.
  • Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA): This was a northern-led rebel force that fought against President Yoweri Museveni from 1986-1988. After a signed peace agreement with the Ugandan government in 1988, some UPDA forces opted to join the emerging LRA forces.

Other Armed Forces

  • Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA): The official army of the government of South Sudan, the SPLA was founded in the 1980s, as the military wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The SPLM, which led and mediated efforts between the LRA and the Uganda government, became the governing political party of newly independent South Sudan in 2012. As a result, the SPLA became the country’s army. The SPLA also participated in joint military operations against the LRA.
  • Regional Task Force (RTF): An African Union military force established to eliminate the LRA made up primarily of forces from Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Sudan. The RTF worked to significantly weaken the LRA’s military hold over the region.
  • Central African Armed Forces: The armed forces of the CAR, which contributed 360 troops to the RTF.
  • United States Africa Command (US Africom): The US Defense Department’s geographical command for Africa responsible for military relations with African nations and the African Union. The command provided substantial international financial and material support to the RTF and sent about 100 troops into the field to aid in operations against the LRA.

Regional, International or Intergovernmental Organizations

  • African Union (AU): A continental union made up of 54 African states.
  • Regional Coordination Initiative (RCI): In November 2011, the AU started the RCI as a political instrument for the countries affected by the LRA, with an attached military wing, the RTF.
  • United Nations (UN): The United Nations has several missions throughout the affected region related to the LRA’s presence in Uganda. It also backed the Juba peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government between 2006 and 2008.
  • The UN Security Council: In June 2012, the Security Council endorsed a regional strategy developed by the United Nations to tackle the threat posed by the LRA. The strategy focused on five key strategic objectives to address the threat from the LRA, including support for the full operationalization and implementation of the African Union regional cooperation initiative against the LRA; enhancing efforts to promote the protection of civilians; and expanding current disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration activities to cover all LRA-affected areas. Additionally, the strategy sought to promote a coordinated humanitarian and child protection response in these areas, and to support LRA-affected governments in the fields of peacebuilding, human rights, rule of law and development, to enable them to establish State authority across their territories.
  • The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO): A UN Missions that aims to protect civilians, promote disarmament, and assist communities in addressing the impact of LRA attacks. In 2010, MONUSCO took over from an earlier UN peacekeeping operation, the United Nations Organization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) to reflect the new phase reached in the country. At one point, MONUC was the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world with approximately 17,000 military personnel and 3,000 civilians in Congo. Notably, MONUC had a very limited role in areas of Congo where the LRA maintained a presence.
  • The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS): A UN mission founded in 2011, after the independence of South Sudan, with a mandate to protect civilians, monitor human rights violations, support delivery of humanitarian assistance, promote disarmament, and assist communities in addressing the impact of LRA attacks.
  • The UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA): A political mission working at the request of the Security Council with the African Union to coordinate UN efforts to address the threat posed by the LRA.
  • The UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic: A peacebuilding mission that aims to help the CAR overcome a history of political instability and recurring armed conflict.
  • United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU): An office that provides logistical and technical support to the RCI.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): An American agency that provided awards to help communities in the CAR reduce their vulnerability to violence from the LRA.

LRA Leaders

  • Joseph Kony: Alleged commander-in-chief of the LRA. Kony is subject to a 2005 ICC arrest warrant against him for 33 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
  • Vincent Otti: Alleged vice-chairman and second-in-command of the LRA. Otti is subject to a 2010 ICC arrest warrant for 32 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimesd,
  • Okot Odhiambo: Alleged deputy army commander of the LRA. He was subject to 2005 ICC arrest warrant for 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. His case was terminated on September 15, 2015 following his death.
  • Raska Lukwiya: Alleged deputy army commander of the LRA. He was subject to a 2005 arrest warrant for three counts of war crimes and one count of crimes against humanity. His case was terminated on July 11, 2007 following his death.

Affected Communities

  • The Acholi: An African ethnic group from an area sometimes referred to as Acholiland, around northern Uganda and South Sudan. Ongwen belongs to the Acholi ethnic group and is proficient in the Acholi language – like many members of the LRA leadership, including Joseph Kony. The Acholi form a part of Uganda’s non-Bantu speaking minority. Notably, Acholis were predominantly the victims of LRA attacks and abductions.
  • Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): The LRA led systematic attacks on residents of camps for Internally Displaced Persons. An IDP, as opposed to a refugee, is a person who has been forced to leave his or her home, but has not crossed an international border. A refugee, on the other hand, is someone who has crossed an international border. As a general rule, IDP camps do not keep records on the ethnicity of their residents. Therefore, it is difficult to determine which communities were most affected by LRA attacks on IDP camps. The following groups have been known to be residents of IDP camps in large number, and, as a result, were most likely subject to LRA attacks.
  • The Langi: Among the non-Bantu speaking communities that occupy the northern portions of Uganda, along with the Acholi, the Iteso, the Alur, the Karamojong, the Jie, the Madi, and the Lugbara. The Langi constitute a significant portion of the IDPs in the northern region of Uganda.
  • The Iteso: The Iteso are the people of the Teso region, who are believed to be the second largest ethnic group in Uganda. They constitute a significant portion of the IDPs in the Teso region.

Geographical Terms

  • Abok: A municipality in Oyam County, Oyam District of northern Uganda. It was the site of an attack by the LRA at an IDP camp where at least 28 civilians were killed in June 2004.
  • Gulu: A city in northern Uganda, which is the commercial and administrative center of Gulu District.
  • Juba: The capital and largest city in South Sudan. Juba was the location for the peace talks between the LRA and Ugandan government from 2006 to 2008.
  • Kampala: The capital and largest city in Uganda, located in the central part of the country.
  • Lukodi: A village in the Gulu District of northern Uganda. It was the location of a May 2004 LRA attach, which killed at least 45 civilians.
  • Odek: A sub-county in Omoro District of northern Uganda. It was the site of an April 2004 attack by the LRA in which at least 61 civilians were murdered at an IDP camp.
  • Pajule: A city in northern Uganda that was the location of an October 2003 attack by the LRA at an IDP camp.


Joseph Kony forms the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) from the remnants of the Holy Spirit Movement that was led by Alice Lakwena.


Dominic Ongwen is abducted by the LRA while on his way to school.

March 17, 1999

Uganda signs the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

June 14, 2002

Uganda ratifies the Rome Statute becoming the 68th State party.

September 2003

According to ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), Ongwen becomes a part of the “Control Altar” – the central command of the LRA and is appointed second-in-command of the Sinia brigade.

December 16, 2003

The government of Uganda refers the situation concerning the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda to the ICC.

April 29, 2004

The LRA attacks Odek Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, killing at least 61 civilians. According to the OTP, Ongwen briefs and instructs troops prior to the attack, plans the attack itself, orders soldiers under his command to commit crimes, deploys troops, commands and coordinates the attack on the ground, and liaises by radio with his superiors before and after the attack.

May 20, 2004

The LRA attacks the Lukodi IDP camp in the Gulu district of northern Uganda. According to the OTP, Ongwen led this attack as the commander of LRA forces. The attack resulted in the death of at least 40 civilians, injury to at least 13 people, the abduction of at least six people, as well as approximately 210 civilian houses being burned.

June 8, 2004

The LRA attacks the Abok IDP camp, then situated in Ngai sub-county, in Apac district, causing the death of approximately 25 persons, including children, the abduction of approximately 26 people, and the destruction of food stocks. Ongwen is alleged to have planned and organized the attack and selected and provided LRA fighters.

July 29, 2004

The ICC Prosecutor finds grounds to investigate the situation in northern Uganda, which falls within the jurisdiction of the ICC.

May 18, 2005

The OTP submits an application to Pre-Trial Chamber II requesting arrest warrants for five suspects alleged to be top LRA commanders: Ongwen, Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, and Raska Lukiwiya

July 8, 2005

Pre-Trial Chamber II  issues arrest warrants under seal against Ongwen and the other four LRA commanders. Ongwen is initially charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes for crimes committed at the Lukodi IDP camp.

October 13, 2005

Pre-Trial Chamber II unseals the warrants of arrest against LRA leaders.

July 2006

The autonomous government of South Sudan initiates a series of negotiations between the government of Uganda and the LRA aimed at possible peace agreement. The negotiations are held in Juba, and as the talks progress they get the backing of the United Nations.


The ICC begins to accept victim applications for participation in the case against Ongwen and his co-accused LRA leaders.

July 11, 2007

Pre-Trial Chamber II terminates proceedings against Lukwiya following forensic confirmation of his death.


Peace talks fail because LRA leader Joseph Kony does not sign the final agreement reached between LRA negotiators and the Ugandan government.

June 25, 2010

Uganda domesticates the Rome Statute through the Uganda International Criminal Court Act, which provides for prosecution of Rome Statute offenses, in addition to the offenses of terrorism, human trafficking, and piracy.

October 2, 2011

The American government authorizes the deployment of 100 troops to join Ugandan forces searching for LRA rebels in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

November 2011

The African Union designates the LRA as a terrorist group and appoints Francisco Madeira, then Special Representative for Counter‐Terrorism Cooperation and Director of the African Center for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT), as the Special Envoy on the LRA issue.

January 6, 2015

Ongwen surrenders in the CAR to the Central African Seleka rebels.  The Seleka fighters hand him over to American troops in the CAR who were working alongside the Ugandan army.

January 16, 2015

Ongwen is surrendered to ICC custody from the CAR.

January 21, 2015

Ongwen is transferred to the ICC detention center after consenting to appear voluntarily before the court.

January 26, 2015

Ongwen makes his initial appearance before the pre-trial chamber. The chamber provisionally schedules the confirmation of charges hearing for August 24, 2015.

On the same day, the Legal Representatives of Victims submits a filing to communicate victim concerns about the limited scope of the charges brought against Ongwen. The victims’ lawyers raise the need for further investigations in relation to Ongwen’s involvement in crimes committed by the LRA, not only in Uganda, but also in neighboring DRC, CAR, and South Sudan. Specific allegations mentioned in the filing include gender-based crimes and recruitment, conscription, and enlistment of child soldiers

February 6, 2015

The pre-trial chamber severs the Ongwen proceedings from the case against Kony, Otti, and Odhiambo to avoid proceeding against the remaining suspects in absentia and delaying pre-trial proceedings.

March 6, 2015

Pre-Trial Chamber II postpones the confirmation of charges hearing until January 21, 2016 to allow the OTP time to reestablish contact with witnesses and collect new evidence, including evidence that relates to potential new charges against Ongwen that might have accrued since the 2005 warrant was issued.

May 19, 2015

The OTP confirms they are conducting further investigations with a view to bring additional charges against Ongwen, possibly related to sexual slavery and other sexual crimes, enlistment of child soldiers, and an attack on IDP camps.

June 29, 2015

The pre-trial chamber states that it is seriously considering exploring the desirability and feasibility of holding the confirmation of charges hearing in Uganda and of making a recommendation to the ICC Presidency to this effect. The chamber orders the parties to provide their views on the matter and the Registrar to provide an assessment as to the possibility of holding the confirmation of charges hearing in Uganda.

September 10, 2015

Pre-Trial Chamber II recommends to the ICC Presidency that holding Ongwen’s confirmation of charges hearing in Uganda would be desirable, in the interests of justice, and beneficial to the perception of the ICC in Africa. The Registry submits that the cost of holding the trial in Uganda would be considerable and a significant drain on resources during the court’s move to its permanent premises at the end of 2015.

The pre-trial chamber terminates proceedings against Odhiambo following forensic confirmation of his death.

September 18, 2015

The prosecutor announces that she will charge Ongwen with 70 charges for crimes of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

October 28, 2015

The ICC Presidency decides that the confirmation of charges hearings will be held in The Hague at the premises of the ICC because the potential risks of an in situ hearing outweigh the potential benefits. The Presidency highlights the significant costs of moving the proceedings and the potential for the political tensions associated with the cotemporaneous Ugandan elections.

November 27, 2015

The single judge of the pre-trial chamber clarifies that Legal Representatives of Victims (LRVs) individually chosen by some participating victims cannot be considered a “common legal representative chosen by the Court” and, as such, do not qualify for financial assistance from the court.

January 21-27, 2016

The confirmation of charges hearing is held.

March 23, 2016

The pre-trial chamber confirms all 70 charges brought against Ongwen. The ICC field office televises the proceedings from The Hague to different parts of Uganda, particularly to northern region where the LRA committed grave atrocities.

May 26, 2016

On appeal, the single judge of the pre-trial chamber confirms that victims who appoint external legal representatives cannot benefit from legal aid. Victims who cannot afford external legal representation may seek legal representation, free of charge, from the Office of Public Counsel for Victims (OPCV), as the common legal representative of victims appointed by the court in the present case.

July 18, 2016

The trial chamber rejects requests to hold opening statements in the Ongwen trial in northern Uganda, citing security concerns and the workload of the judges hearing the case.

December 6, 2016

The trial opens in The Hague. Proceedings commence with opening statements from the prosecution and victims’ representatives.

January 16, 2017

Presentation of the prosecution’s evidence begins.

April 13, 2018

Presentation of the prosecution’s evidence formally closes after its final witness completes testimony the prior day.

May 1-24, 2018

Lawyers representing victims in the trial call seven witnesses, who present testimony on the harm suffered as a result of the crimes Ongwen has been charged with.

September 18, 2018

Defense opening statement is given before Trial Chamber IX.

September 27, 2018

Defense presentation of evidence begins.

November 18-29, 2019

Mental health experts testify about Ongwen’s mental state.

December 12, 2019

The presiding judge of Trial Chamber IX announces the closure of the submission of evidence.

March 10-12, 2020

Lawyers for the prosecution, defense, and victims present closing arguments before Trial Chamber IX in The Hague.

April 17, 2020

Trial Chamber IX denies the defense request for interim release of the accused  but grants its request to lift communications restrictions.

February 4, 2021

Trial Chamber IX issues its Trial Judgment, finding Dominic Ongwen guilty of 61 out of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity