Ongwen Trial: 15 community leaders to visit ICC

Ongwen Trial: 15 community leaders to visit ICC
Dominic Ongwen, a Ugandan commander in warlord Joseph Kony's feared militia, waits for procedures to start at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Courtesy Photo

A second delegation of 10 religious and cultural leaders from Acholi sub region will once again visit the seat of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague this year.

They are also expected to interact with former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) warlord Dominic Ongwen, a native of Amuru district who standing trial at the Court for 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Martin Denis Okwir, an Outreach Assistant for the ICC in Uganda, says the delegation will be accompanied by five journalists interested in transitional justice. Okwir says arrangements for the monitoring trip are in final stages. He says another delegation will be dispatched in the second half of the year.

According to Okwir, the delegation will interact with court officials to understand the progress of the trial of Dominic Ongwen in view of ensuring transparency and fairness of the process to the accused and affected communities the leaders will represent.

Eric MP Odong, another outreach assistant in charge of Victims’ Participation and Reparation says so far, 62 prosecution witnesses have testified against Ongwen in the trial which commenced in December 2016. He says another ten prosecution witnesses are yet to testify.

It will be the second time community leaders from the LRA-affected region are visiting the court. Last year, the Archbishop of Gulu John Baptist Odama and Acholi Paramount Chief David Onen Achana II led a delegation of community leaders to The Hague. They briefly interacted with Ongwen from his custody at the Hague. They told their communities that they were satisfied Dominic Ongwen would get free and fair trial.

While the final verdict is expected by the end of 2019, Okwir says when prosecution concludes presenting evidence against Ongwen in March, the Counsels representing victims that have been admitted in the trial will submit their evidence. After this, Ongwen’s defence will take the stage in a bid to overturn the evidences against their client.

Okwir told journalists in Gulu district that part of the defence team visited Corom village, Ongwen’s birth place on Friday last week and interacted with his family members. He said the defence was seeking to derive vital pieces of evidence required for building a strong case while on the monthly screening of the summary of the trial which was in progress in that village.

“The defense told relatives of Dominic Ongwen to be calm because all the basic human rights of the former LRA commander are being protected. This was something very interesting to hear coming from the defence team itself,” Okwir explained.

Dominic Ongwen’s defence has fruitlessly tried to quash his trial several times citing Ongwen’s mental health status as unfit to stand trial. The last attempt to halt the trial failed last week after Judges of the court rejected an application in which the defence sought remedies for violation of the rights to fair trial of the accused.

According to the defence, Dominic Ongwen’s right to fair trial was violated when court failed to avail him with the Acholi version of the Confirmation of Charges, among other documents, in contravention of Article 60 of the Rome Statute.

Three judges ruled that failure to provide Dominic Ongwen with translated versions of court documents does not meet the criteria for violation of the rights to fair trial.