Uganda’s Dominic Ongwen to appeal ICC charges

Dominic Ongwen

Dominic Ongwen

The Defence side in the International Criminal Court case against Ugandan rebel Commander Dominic Ongwen has asked for leave to appeal the decision of the Court to confirm charges against the former commander in the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group.

The Pre-trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court on March 23rd confirmed 70 charges brought by the Chief Prosecutor against Dominic Ongwen and committed him to trial before a Trial Chamber.

The Chamber concluded that there are substantial grounds to believe that Dominic Ongwen is responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The war crimes he faces include attacks against the civilian population; murder and attempted murder ; rape; sexual slavery ; torture; cruel treatment; outrages upon personal dignity ; destruction of property ; pillaging ; the conscription and use of children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities.

The crimes against humanity charges include murder and attempted murder ; torture ; sexual slavery ; rape ; enslavement ; forced marriage as an inhumane act ; persecution ; and other inhumane acts.

The confirmed charges concern crimes allegedly committed during attacks against the Pajule Internally Displaced Peoples’ camp in October 2003, Odek IDP camp in April 2004, Lukodi IDP camp in May 2004 and Abok IDP camp in June 2004 as well as sexual and gender based crimes directly and indirectly committed by Dominic Ongwen and crimes of conscription and use in hostilities of children under the age of 15 allegedly committed in northern Uganda between 1st July 2002 and 31st, December 2005.

The Chamber based its decision on the evidence presented to it by the Chief Prosecutor and by the Defence which included witness statements or transcripts of interviews of a total of 123 witnesses, records of intercepted LRA radio communications and oral testimonies of seven witnesses given before Single Judge Cuno Tarfusser in the presence of the Prosecutor and the Defence in September and November 2015.

But the defense team is appealing the decision of the trial chamber on five grounds saying that the former erred when it refused to exclude non translated statements and transcripts disclosed on 21st, December, 2015 and when it failed to consider evidence presented by the Defence as to the age of Dominic Ongwen. The defence also says that the Court erred in the decision by failing to issue a well reasoned decision, when it decided that article 25 (3) ( c) does not require a substantial contribution to the crime and the decision that forced marriage was not subsumed by the crime of sexual slavery.
Lead defence Counsel Crispus Oyena Odongo said in a statement that an immediate determination of the five grounds of appeal by the Appeals Chamber is necessary for the fair and expeditious outcome of the proceedings and trial, adding that it would also materially advance the proceedings and the functions of the court.

Meanwhile the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda has said many combatants within the Lord’s Resistance Army ranks who want to abandon rebellion are being misled by the rebel leader Joseph Kony that they will be arrested and prosecuted.

“My office received information from communities in Northern Uganda and from Lord’s Resistance Army (“LRA”) fighters who have returned from the bush that many within the ranks of the LRA are still being misled by Joseph Kony and other senior LRA commanders that you will either be imprisoned like Dominic Ongwen, or even tortured or killed by the International Criminal Court , if you surrender and try to return home. This is not true, and it is a complete fallacy to suggest that the ICC engages in torture or killing of any individual,” Bensouda said in a statement.

She said that no other LRA member is subject to ICC proceedings apart from the elusive Joseph Kony and Dominic Ongwen who is before the ICC.

“We have seen encouraging trends: many LRA fighters are returning home and reintegrating into their communities. I urge those still in the bush to also seize any opportunity to stop fighting and return home, where you have a chance to rebuild your lives,” she noted.

Among the five arrest warrants initially issued by the Court in 2005, only two remain outstanding: senior LRA commanders Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti (believed deceased).