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Ongwen trial: Defense team seeks reductions in court appearance

FILE PHOTO: Dominic Ongwen in the Hague court.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The defense team of former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen is protesting addition of a week of trial on Ongwen’s trial days for June.

They say the added days will overwhelm his vulnerable mental health condition and endanger his treatment and recovery. Ongwen is currently under treatment for undisclosed mental condition which rebounded in January this year.

The condition prompted the trial chamber IX to adjourn his trial for two weeks to allow him be examined by a team of experts overseeing his health and those at the International Criminal Court detention facility.

Since then, his trial has been experiencing series of interruptions related to his ability to appear in court and follow the proceedings. The latest is the suspension of this week’s hearing following the cancellation of May 2nd and 3rd.

Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead lawyer says his client is presenting vulnerable mental health with potential impacts on his ability to follow the proceedings. He says the trial chamber has already confirmed this in a report submitted to it.

Ayena says they would like the chamber to remove the trial week of June 13 to 20th to afford Ongwen sufficient time to continue his treatment and recover. He adds that the trial week was planned without consultation with the defense.

“The Trial Chamber’s removal and addition of new dates to the Schedule, without consulting the Defense, has a considerable effect on the planning and preparation of its defense. This violates the fair and expeditious conduct of proceedings and Mr Ongwen’s fair trial rights under Article 67(1)(e) of the Rome Statute” he stated in a public redacted defense request for amendment in the seating schedule of the court filed to trial Chamber on May 7th.

Trial Chamber is expected to pass a decision on the matter this week after Prosecution and the Legal Representatives for Victims have been allowed to comment on the request.

Last year, Ayena revealed that Dominic Ongwen suffers recurrent incidences of Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) originating from years of exposure to traumatic bush situations while in the captivities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Earlier, the Medical Officer of the Detention Center of the International Criminal Court (ICC) recommended in a separate report to the trial chamber that Ongwen should not sit in Court on Wednesdays. They said Ongwen is still mentally unstable to suffer undue stress with adverse mental health effects.

It should be noted that Ongwen was examined by mental health experts at the beginning of his trial in 2015 and found to be medically fit to stand trial before the International Criminal Court.

Ongwen, the alleged commander of the Sinia Brigade of the Lord’s Resistance Army is standing trial at the International Criminal court for 70 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual and gender-based violence he is alleged to have committed while serving in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

He is accused of masterminding attacks on Lukodi Internally Displaced Person’s camp, Pajule, Odek and Abok between 2002 and 2005.

The case is being heard by a bench of three judges namely Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt, Péter Kovács and Raul C. Pangalangan.

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