Court abruptly adjourns Ongwen’s trial

Court abruptly adjourns Ongwen's trial
Dominic Ongwen at his confirmation of charges hearing in ICC courtroom I on 21 January 2016 © ICC-CPI

Judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) hearing the case against the former rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Commander, Dominic Ongwen have adjourned court to May 29th. Justice Bertram Schmitt announced in Open Court on Tuesday evening that the next hearing session will begin on May 29th after three weeks of break with Prosecution Witness P-314.

The other judges of the court are Peter Kovacs and Raul Cano Pangalangan. Court, which resumed on May 1st, was initially scheduled to adjourn on Friday May 12th. It is unclear why the trial that has lasted for nearly five months adjourned abruptly since no reason was given by the judges.

Prior to the adjournment, the trial heard testimonies from two prosecution witnesses P-18 and P-142, both former LRA combatants. They fought alongside Ongwen following their abduction. Ongwen faces 70 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual crimes he is alleged to have committed as commanding officer of the Sinia Brigade between 2002 and 2005 on camps for displaced persons in Lukodi, Odek, Pajule and Abok in northern Uganda.

Witness P-18, a former LRA abductee told court early this month that Lukodi camp internally Displaced People’s Camp for which Ongwen being tried for attacking in May 2004 wasn’t originally on their target. He says they had plans to attack Awach, another town in northern Uganda but changed plans because of the strong presences of government soldiers in the area.

The witness said she learned about the change in plans when her unit and another gathered before the attack. After his testimony, Witness P-142, a former LRA intelligence officer told court that the Ugandan government has not prosecuted four former LRA members who held the same or higher rank than Ongwen, who is on trial at the ICC.

Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s defense lawyers, asked Witness P-142 on Tuesday about the ranks held by Kenneth Banya, Sam Kolo, Onen Kamdullu alias Kabule and Odongo Acellam while LRA and whether they were free after leaving the rebel group. The witness said that he knew of only one of the four being imprisoned, but it was for crimes he committed after he left the LRA and not in relation to any actions he took while with the group.

None of the four are named in the arrest warrant the ICC issued in July 2005 for five LRA commanders, including Ongwen. They were all pardoned under the Amnesty Act and reintegrated with their communities. The others named in the warrant are LRA leader, Joseph Kony, his deputy, Vincent Otti; Okot Odhiambo; and Raska Lukwiya.

The case against Lukwiya was terminated on July 11, 2007 after the ICC confirmed his death. The case against Odhiambo was terminated on September 7, 2015 after the court confirmed his death as well. Court is yet to establish that Vincent Otti has truly died after hearing rumors of having been killed by his boss, Joseph Kony.

According to Witness P-142, Kenneth Banya and Sam Kolo had a higher rank than Ongwen while Onen Kamdullu had the same rank with Ongwen. Sam Kolo was “also a senior person who was together with Kony and is currently in the country.

Later on, Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead defense lawyer, asked the witness about Ongwen’s relationship with the members of his unit. Witness P-142 described Ongwen as “a people’s person who would talk to people, stay amongst them, share laughter and jokes.”

Adding that “He was a person who cared about people. But that was when he was having a lower rank.” Ogwen reportedly changed his behavior when he started climbing ranks because of different responsibilities. He said when Ongwen worked in the operations room of Sinia brigade he was tough and strict.

Additional report by International Justice Monitor, A Project of Open Society Justice Initiative – which is monitoring the trial of Dominic Ongwen at The Hague, Netherlands.

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