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Dominic Ongwen’s pre-trial resumes at The Hague

Dominic Ongwen, the former top commander of the Lord’s Resistance Movement (LRA) is expected back in the Pre-Trial Chamber II at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the confirmation of charges hearing.

The five-day session started on Jan.21 and is expected to go on until Jan.27. It will be handled by three judges— Cuno Tarfusser (presiding judge); Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, and Chang-ho Chung.

Fatou Bensouda is the chief prosecutor while James Stewart is the deputy prosecutor and Benjamin Gumpert is the senior trial lawyer.

Dominic Ongwen’s defence counsel is Krispus Ayena Odongo while the legal representatives of the victims of the northern Uganda atrocities are Joseph Akwenya Manoba, Francisco Cox and Paolinne Massida.

While speaking to the media in Kampala on Jan.20 ahead of the resumption of the pre-trial hearing, Maria Mabinty Kamara, the ICC Outreach Officer for Uganda and Kenya said the five-day session is not a trial but a pre-trial proceeding that will determine whether Ongwen is to stand trial.

“This process is important because it guarantees the rights of the suspect and ensures fairness of proceedings,” she said.

“Dominic Ongwen is innocent until proven guilty by the judges after hearing evidence,” she said, “Because it is not a trial we will not expect a ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ verdict.”

During her five-day visit to Uganda last February, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor at the ICC assured the people of northern Uganda and Ongwen’s family in particular that Ongwen would be treated with dignity throughout the proceedings at the Court.

Kamara said a decision on whether Dominic Ongwen is to stand trial will only take place within 60 days following the closure of the confirmation of charges hearing.

She said the judges will decide to decline or confirm the charges or the prosecutor will be asked to amend the charges should the judges notice that the evidence that has so far been presented points to a crime that is different from the one produced in the Court.

She said if the charges are confirmed, even if it is one count out of the seven counts that are presented and the judges find that there is reasonable ground that Ongwen may have committed the crimes, then the judges will commit to the trial stage.

The warrant of arrest for Ongwen lists seven counts on the basis of his individual criminal responsibility allegedly committed on or about May 20, 2004 at the Lukodi IDP Camp in the northern Uganda district of Gulu.

Three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, enslavement, inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering and four counts of war crimes [murder; cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population as well as pillaging.

But the prosecutor also submitted a notice indicating her intention to charge Ongwen with crimes based on facts beyond those stipulated in the warrant of arrest. Additional charges were mainly related to attacks on the Pajule IDP camp, the Odek IDP camp and the Abok IDP camp, in addition to the Lukodi camp.

In addition, the Kony-led LRA is also blamed for the kidnapping of over 60,000 children from Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic since the rebellion began in 1987.

Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that, during the period from July 1, 2002 to an unspecified date in 2004, the LRA, an armed group, allegedly carried out an insurgency against the government of Uganda.

There are reasonable grounds to believe that the LRA had been directing attacks against both the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and the Local Defence Units (LDUs) and against civilian populations, and that, in pursuing its goals, the LRA had engaged in a cycle of violence and established a pattern of ‘brutalization of civilians.’

Civilians, including children, are believed to have been abducted and forcibly ‘recruited’ as fighters, porters and sex slaves to serve the LRA and to contribute to attacks against the Ugandan army and civilian communities.

Uganda referred the situation concerning northern Uganda to the Office of the Prosecutor on Dec.13 in 2003. On July, 29, 2004, the prosecutor determined a reasonable basis to open an investigation into the situation and a warrant of arrest was issued on May 6, 2005 for LRA top commanders; Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen.

On July 8, 2005, pre-trial Chamber II issued warrants of arrest under seal against the named individuals for the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes and requested the government of Uganda to search for, arrest, detain, and surrender to the Court, Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen.

On Sept. 9, 2005, the prosecutor submitted an “Application for Unsealing of Warrants of Arrest issued on July 8, 2005” to pre-trial chamber II. On Oct. 13, 2005, pre-trial Chamber decided to unseal the warrants of arrest for Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen.

On Jan. 29, the non-redacted warrant of arrest for Dominic Ongwen and its translations in French and Acholi were reclassified as public pursuant to an instruction of pre-trial chamber II.

On Feb.6, 2015, pre-trial chamber II severed the proceedings against Dominic Ongwen from the case of the prosecutor against Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen.

However, since the three suspects in the case have not appeared or have not been apprehended yet, the Chamber deemed it necessary to separate the case so as not to delay the pre-trial proceedings against Ongwen.

It is for this reason that, after consulting the prosecutor, the chamber decided not to proceed against the other three suspects in absentia.

On Jan.16, 2015, Ongwen was surrendered to the ICC’s custody and transferred to the ICC detention centre in The Hague (The Netherlands) on Jan.21, 2015.

His initial appearance before the single judge of pre-trial Chamber II, Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova, took place onJan.26, 2015 in the presence of the prosecutor and the defence. Ongwen was represented by his Duty Counsel, Helene Cisse.

The single judge verified the identity of the suspect, and ensured that he was clearly informed of the charges brought against him and of his rights under the Rome Statute of the ICC in a language he fully understands and speaks (Acholi).

Although there were plans to have the confirmation of charges done in Uganda, the ICC presidency decided on Oct. 28, last year that the hearing should be held at The Hague.

Kamara told The Independent that the upcoming Presidential and Parliamentary election was one of the factors that made the ICC reconsider their request to the government of Uganda.

“It was not considered an appropriate time for the judges to come over to Uganda,” she said.

Kamara also noted that in terms of budget and logistics, it was also assessed the money that would be spent on a two-day proceeding would be too much of an expenditure compared to the benefits that were envisaged to bring the judges and the prosecution.

“It had been hoped that bringing the ICC proceedings to Uganda would have been a symbolic gesture where the visibility, credibility and trust closer to the communities since they would have been able to watch live the proceedings.”

“But this does not rule out future possibilities of the trial being held in Uganda,” she said.

Now, the ICC Outreach Office for Uganda and Kenya is scheduled to stream the pre-trial over the next five days to help both religious and cultural leaders in northern Uganda follow proceedings as a way of bringing the process closer to the communities.

Kamara said, besides television screens being mounted in big towns of Kampala (Hotel Africana), Lira and Soroti; the villages of Lukodi near Gulu, Pajule, Odek and Abok, Abia and Balonyo would also have the proceedings streamed live from The Hague for the communities that have been linked to charges Ongwen is facing.

“This is made to ensure that affected communities and victims stay very close to this process since the possibility of going to The Hague is not there,” she said.

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