LRA’s Dominic Ongwen, appearing in court during his pre-trial hearing in January 2016, in a suit unlike his bush attire.
“It is going to be historic that after ten years, one of the five indicted LRA commanders is in our custody and the actual trial begins. We have put in place public viewing centers at the four locations the crimes were committed”
GULU-UGANDA:The International Criminal Court (ICC) has released names of the three judges who will preside over Mr. Dominic Ongwen’s case. The former commander of Sinia Brigade under the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the ICC, in Trial Chamber 9.
The three are Judge Bertram Schmitt, a German jurist who was born on September 9, 1958, is the Presiding Judge; Judge Peter Kovacs, born in 1959 in Hungary and Judge Raul C. Pangalangan, born on September 1, 1958 in the Philippines. The trial, which will commence on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, will take place in The Hague in the Netherlands.
This was disclosed to the media in Gulu by Ms. Maria Kamara, the Outreach unit coordinator for Uganda and Kenya, on November 22, 2016 from Gulu town.
“It is going to be historic that after ten years, one of the five indicted LRA commanders is in our custody and the actual trial begins. We have put in place public viewing centers at the four locations the crimes were committed” says Ms. Kamara.
Uganda government ratified the ICC Rome Statute in June 2002 and in 2004 referred the LRA situation to the ICC to investigate focusing on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the context of an armed conflict predominantly between the LRA and the national army, which took place mainly in northern Uganda, between 1986 and 2006.
Pre-Trial Chamber issued arrest warrants in 2005, against five top LRA commanders: Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Raska Lukwiya and Dominic Ongwen. While Lukwiya and Odhiambo have been confirmed dead and the ICC judges have terminated proceedings against them, Otti’s death has not yet been confirmed. While Kony is still at large, Domini Ongwen is in custody awaiting trial.
Who is Dominic Ongwen?
Dominic Ongwen was born in 1975 in the village of Coorom in Amuru district in northern Uganda. He was the former commander of the Sinia Brigade of the LRA who was abducted in 1999 when he was walking to school. He rose through the ranks, becoming a “Major” at the age of 18 winning the confidence of Kony, leader of the LRA.
It is alleged that he was the commander who led the attacks in Pajule Internally Displaced Peoples’ (IDP) camp in October 2003, Odek IDP in April 2004, Lukodi IDP in May 2004 and in Abok in June 2004. He surrendered from the Central African Republic (CAR) and was transferred to the custody of the ICC in January 2015, where he is standing trial.
The LRA killed more than 100,000 people, abducted more than 60,000 others and displaced more than 1.8 million people from their homes, mainly in Acholi and Lango sub-regions of northern Uganda.
Although the Prosecution, the Defense as well as the Legal representatives of victims requested the Chamber to consider the possibility of holding the opening of the trial in Uganda, preferably in Gulu, thereby making the proceedings relevant and meaningful to the communities connected to the alleged crimes, the Trial Chamber declined the request and decided that his trial will now take place at the seat of the court in the Hague.
4109 victims have applied to participate in Ongwen’s trial. The Defense lead counsel is Uganda’s Chrispus Ayena Odongo.
“We don’t know how long the trial will last. It will probably last several months and years depending on the complexity of the case. If found guilty, he will serve a maximum of 30 years in jail or life- imprisonment as ICC does not condemn prisoners to death” says Kamara.
She explained that although three countries in Africa; Gambia, Burundi, and South Africa have expressed interest to withdraw from the ICC; the withdrawal will not affect on-going investigations.