Detained former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels commander Dominic Ongwen is a proud father of a bouncing new child.
The child whose gender has been concealed, was conceived during the second leg of a private family visit, his wife and children made last year to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) detention centre.
Ongwen broke the news of the new born child to a group of four leading Acholi leaders who visited him at the detention center in the Hague on Friday last week.
Paramount chief of Acholi, David Onen Achana II, the head of the delegation, the Archbishop of Gulu Catholic diocese John Baptist Odama and the retired Bishop Nelson Onono Onweng, the former Bishop of northern Uganda Anglican diocese as well as Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the Gulu district chairperson visited Ongwen at the Hague.
Mapenduzi said Ongwen was very excited as he broke the news of the birth of the child during the visit which lasted more than one hour.
“He said the court allows his immediate family – his wife and children to visit him. I think his wife has visited him about twice already. Actually when his wife visited him last year, she went back pregnant and has given birth. She has given birth and the guy was excited to talk about that. The court allows them to have their conjugal rights. His children have visited him, he calls them. His children are in school in Gulu, he talks to them,” Mapenduzi said.
In Acholi culture, male children born in diaspora are named Otim while their female counterparts are named Atim. When dictated by a sad circumstance such as incarceration or calamity, the children are often named Lubangakene to mean God is good in praise of his protective powers.
Ongwen has been locked at the detention centre since 2015 after surrendering from the Central African Republic (CAR) to stand trial at the International Criminal Court for 70 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual and gender based crimes he is alleged to have committed while serving as commander of the Sinia Brigade.
While in captivity of the LRA, Ongwen fathered more than 20 children with different women that he enslaved as wives. While in detention, he invites the ones he loves the most to visit him, it’s during these visits that a new child has been born.
Peter Lewis, the registrar of the International Criminal Court had earlier told the delegation that Ongwen is accorded a private family visit in which he has conjugal rights. Shortly after breaking the news, Ongwen reportedly also requested the delegation to deliver to him some Catholic articles of worship including a holy rosary, hymn and prayer books.
Archbishop Odama told Ongwen that he will contact the registry of the court to work out a mechanism through which the articles of worship will be delivered.
During the visit, Ojara says Ongwen disclosed a botched plan in which Joseph Kony, the LRA leader and Okot Odhiambo, former ICC indicted commander had crafted to execute the paramount chief of Acholi and other cultural leaders during the failed Juba Peace talks.
According to Ongwen, Kony wanted the cultural leaders killed shortly after Juba peace talks ended to demonstrate to the world that the leaders could not make peace with them.
The South Sudan mediated peace talks ended without the final peace agreement after Kony refused to show up and sign the final text of the agreement citing failure to withdraw the ICC arrest warrants which were hanging over five of the group’s top commanders.
According to Ojara, Ongwen revealed that it was him and Ceaser Acellam who rejected the plan on account that murdering cultural leaders constitutes serious taboo and omen under the culture of the Acholi people.
“One statement that really touched me, he said; paramount chief, ‘ thank God that I’m seated facing you right now because I can feel you. I remember how Joseph Kony had ordered that you be killed and how it became a very heated debate – almost risky when I resisted. Some commanders had sided with Kony that you be killed together with other leaders including Odhiambo.'” said Ojara.
The paramount chief Onen is reported to have told Ongwen that he had been informed about the murder plot to eliminate him by former LRA rebels who reintegrated into communities. According to Mapenduzi, the chief then applauded Ongwen and the other commanders who saved their lives.
“It was good Ongwen opened up to confess without duress as he had been waiting for the confession for a long time” Mapenduzi elaborated.
From the detention centre, Ongwen shares the common room with other suspects standing trial at The Hague based court including former President of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo and his former minister among others with each of them preparing their separate meals.
For the delegation of Acholi leaders, Ongwen prepared a meal of pork and chicken, a Dutch meal served with rice and salads. He said it was his honour to serve his visitors in accordance with the Acholi culture.
Under the International Criminal Court’s founding treaty conjugal right is provided for. The other rights are right to an effective defense and fair judge, the right to equality and equal treatment by law, the right of presumption of innocence, negative comments from the public authorities and the right to respect of privacy, family, home and correspondence.
Others are interference in correspondence, the right to be treated with humanity and the right to freedom from torture, the right of the accused person to get notified of the charges in a language he/she understands, the right to legal assistance, the right not to testify against itself or the right to remain silent and the right to be recorded during interrogation.