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ICC prosecution team in Uganda to unpack Ongwen’s defense

Ongwen’s defence team. FILE PHOTO

Gulu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Officials from the office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court – ICC have pitched camp in Northern Uganda to unpack the opening statement of former LRA Commander Dominic Ongwen to victims of the two decades’ conflict.

Ongwen is facing 70 counts of charges related to sexual and gender-based crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between July 1, 2002, and December 31, 2005, under his command in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). He has pleaded not guilty to all the counts.

The ICC Prosecution team is led by trial lawyer Adesola Adeboyejo and Sant-Annah Dairou, the International Cooperation Adviser in the Office of the Prosecutor. They are meeting different stakeholders in Gulu, Pajule, Lukodi, Abok and Odek.

On top of their list is a need to help people understand that Dominic Ongwen’s team led by Ugandan lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo has so far used four spiritual healers to prove the defense of duress. Prosecution trial lawyer Adeboyejo says the four spiritualists have told the court that Ongwen was under the commands of the spirits during his service with the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Adeboyejo says they are critically following the evidence already shared by the twelve defense witnesses who testified between October 1 and November 23. She says of deep interests to prosecution is the evidence of the first Defense witness Rwot Yusuf Adek Okwonga.

Adesola says Ongwen’s defense used the evidence of Rwot Yusuf Adek to neutralize the evidence provided by an expert prosecution witness Professor Tim Allen on the historical background of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government of Uganda, the cultural context under which the conflict occurred as well as the impact of spiritualism on Juba Peace talks and the conflict in general.

Adeboyejo said Rwot Adek capitalized on the spiritualism to illustrate how it affected the escape of abducted persons including Dominic Ongwen and the Juba Peace Process.

According to Adesola, it is now up to the judges of the court to evaluate evidence on the spiritualism of the Lord’s Resistance Army and the impacts it had on the conflict and Dominic Ongwen.

Sant-Annah Dairou says Prosecution is well prepared to unpack the defense opening statement to the court at an appropriate time. He says since the statement was made on September 18, the prosecution has derived different interpretations including the spiritualism of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the personality of Dominic Ongwen, the coercive environment in which Dominic Ongwen operated in LRA captivity and the roles internally displaced persons’ camp played in the conflict.

Dairou says Prosecution disagrees with the defense of Dominic Ongwen that the Lord’s Resistance Army policy for distribution of women and girls for wives to LRA commanders was centralized around Joseph Kony and his spiritualism.

According to Dairou, Prosecution is also concerned that the defense of Dominic Ongwen is trying to persuade the court to believe that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was a non-conventional army contrary to prosecution theory which demonstrated that the group existed as a conventional army. He said the defense has illustrated that attacks on IDP camps also had legitimate reasons.

The other, Dairou said, is the defense submission that Court should treat prosecution’s evidence on telephone Intercepts as a manipulated tool of the Office of the Prosecutor. He adds that the defense team has also indicated that the rise in ranks for Dominic Ongwen was to prevent him from escaping from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), quite contrary to their theory.

He said they are keenly waiting to understand how the defense will demonstrate that civilian populations were not enemies of the LRA.

The group has so far held lengthy discussions with members of the Civil Society Organizations and the legal fraternity before heading to the four case locations on Thursday morning.

In the initial presentation, prosecution trial lawyer Adesola said their cross examination established that insider Defense Witness D-26 was unable to categorically tell the court that Dominic Ongwen was absent on scene during the attack on Pajule IDP camp after he the witness left Pajule 24 hours to the attack.

Adeboyejo also unpacked the evidence of the defense of Dominic Ongwen on the Policy of the Lord’s Resistance Army using the evidence of Defense Witness D-119 – a former wife of Vincent Otti, the former deputy of LRA leader Joseph Kony. She told the court that the distribution of wives to commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army was strictly dependent on Joseph Kony and the spirits.

During the Opening statement, Dominic Ongwen indicated to the court that he will call 72 witnesses drawn from insider sources, experts as well as former soldiers of Uganda people’s Defense Forces – UPDF. So far, 12 of those witnesses have testified between October and end of November.

Hearing of the Dominic Ongwen case has been adjourned to January 2019. It is the first time that prosecution has come up to speak publicly about the defense opening statement delivered in September.

Since the late 1980s, the LRA has allegedly killed and mutilated thousands of civilians and abducted an estimated 52,000 to 75,000 people to serve as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves for its commanders.

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