Forced pregnancy and forced marriage were internationally recognized as war crimes following the sentencing of former child soldier Dominic Ongwen at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Ongwen, who was a senior commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Part of the charges related to sexual and gender-based crimes, including forced pregnancy, forced marriage, rape, sexual slavery and more. Seven women he abducted and held captive testified to everything.
Forced pregnancy and marriage were one of the tactics of the LRA, a rebel paramilitary group led by Joseph Kony that sought to establish a democratic theocracy in Uganda based on the Ten Commandments of God. The group has been active for almost two decades.
Many girls and women in these areas were abducted and enslaved as the “wives” of LRA commanders-in-chief, including Ongwen. The girls were closely monitored and considered property, according to a report by CAP International, which fights sexual exploitation, and Watye Ki Gen, a surviving women’s organization working to protect and empower children born during the war. The girls were expected to give birth and take care of the children, do the housework and take care of the farm, but also to fight in the LRA if necessary.
Ongwen’s conviction marks the merging of an international legal interpretation of sexual and gender-based war crimes that began in 2002 with the Rome Statute, a treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. It was the first international treaty to recognize sexual and gender-based violence as crimes against humanity, war crimes and, in some cases, genocide.
Survivors of sexual and gender-based war crimes by the LRA had difficulty reintegrating into society, faced social stigma, as well as resentment over forced participation in violence against others. As a result of the abuse, many returned home HIV-positive, with scars or disability as lasting reminders of their experiences.
Ongwen’s lawyers announced that they would appeal the verdict, claiming that Ongwen was both the perpetrator and the victim – namely, the LRA kidnapped him and forced him to be part of Kony’s children’s army.