AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court on Thursday sentenced a former Ugandan child soldier who became a commander of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army to 25 years in prison for crimes including rape, sexual enslavement, child abduction, torture and murder.
Dominic Ongwen, who was taken into ICC custody in 2015, was convicted in February of 61 out of 70 alleged crimes. In many, the victims were women and children.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the panel of judges had considered sentencing Ongwen to life imprisonment, the court's harshest punishment, but had decided against it due to the defendant's own personal suffering.
Ongwen, who is his early 40s, sat in court in a grey suit and red tie looking impassively as the decision was read aloud. He is appealing his conviction.
Led by fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, the LRA terrorized Ugandans for nearly 20 years as it battled the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in northern Uganda and neighbouring countries. It has now largely been wiped out.
Ongwen was abducted as a 9-year-old boy and forced into a life of violence after the group killed his parents. At the same time, the judges found, he knowingly committed a vast range of heinous crimes as an adult, many of them against defenceless children and women who were forced into slavery or to take up arms.
He was "a perpetrator who wilfully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims, however, also a perpetrator who himself has previously endured extreme suffering at the hands of the group of which he later became a prominent member and leader," Judge Schmitt said.
Prosecutors had demanded he get at least 20 years in prison, while his defence argued he should get no more than a 10-year sentence because he was traumatized as a child soldier.[nL1N2M80VI, nL8N2M72F0]
But the crimes were so grave, including "instances where murder was committed by burning people alive in houses and the harsh treatment of children," that a longer sentence was fitting, the court found.
"Dominic Ongwen fully intended all of these crimes. He played a key role in their commission, he participated in the planning and personally took part in it. It was he who decided to launch the attacks, he selected the fighters and issued the specific instructions ahead of each attack," the ruling said.
The sentence can be appealed.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Bart Meijer Editing by Angus MacSwan)