Ruling in Case Against Dominic Ongwen Sets Historic Precedent on Reproductive Autonomy
NEW YORK/THE HAGUE — The International Criminal Court today upheld the conviction of Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel force that operated in Uganda for decades.
In 2021, Ongwen was found guilty of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Northern Uganda between 2002 and 2005. This included many sexual and gender-based crimes such as forced marriage and forced pregnancy, neither of which had previously tried at the ICC.
The Global Justice Center, Amnesty International, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, and Dr. Rosemary Grey filed an amicus brief on the crime of forced pregnancy in the case in December of 2021. They presented this analysis to the court during appeal hearings in February of this year. In its ruling today, the court affirmed this analysis and found that the legal interest behind the crime of forced pregnancy is “woman’s reproductive health and autonomy and the right to family planning,” and that national abortion laws are irrelevant to the court’s analysis of the crime.
Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:
“Today’s ruling is a victory not only for the victims of Dominic Ongwen, but for all victims of sexual and gender-based violence that come to the ICC for justice. This is especially true for victims of forced pregnancy, whose human rights are now further protected by the creation of a historic precedent on reproductive autonomy in international law.”
Alix Vuillemin, Advocacy Director at Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, issued the following statement:
“Today, the crime of ‘forced pregnancy’ was recognized by the ICC as the incomparable violence done to women who are raped, forcibly made pregnant, and confined with the intent to keep them pregnant. As we said in the 1990s in pushing for the criminalisation of these acts, with forced pregnancy, the invasion of the body and self is total. Women are being treated as chattel for the purpose of reproduction, which is another form of gender enslavement. Decades later, with this judgment, the ICC has given us sharper tools to advance the recognition, accountability and prevention of this violence.”
Matt Cannock, Amnesty International's Center for International Justice, issued the following statement:
“The Appeals Chamber's decision will doubtless prove critical for the future of the International Criminal Court's consideration of the crime of forced pregnancy, and it firmly holds the door open to victims of this horrendous crime to access justice before the court and beyond.
“In particular we welcome the court's crucial finding, centered around human rights considerations, that the crime of forced pregnancy seeks to protect women’s ‘reproductive health and autonomy and the right to family planning’ - an absence of which can cause severe physical and psychological harms and lasting personal, social and economic consequences.”
Dr. Rosemary Grey, Lecturer at Sydney Law School, issued the following statement:
“Today, the value of reproductive autonomy was recognised by the International Criminal Court’s highest chamber. The decision affirms that forced pregnancy is among the most serious crimes of international concern, regardless of whether reproductive rights are protected under national law. It’s inspiring — and long overdue — to see the court taking this strong stance on reproductive rights under international law. And inspiring to see the strength of the two women whose evidence supported this historic conviction for forced pregnancy.”