UGANDA: DOMINIC ONGWEN’S DEFENSE TEAM TO CALL 72 WITNESSES IN THE TRIAL BEFORE ICC JUDGES

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L-R: Martin D. Okwir of the ICC outreach team and Mr. Thomas Obhof at NUMEC

“We have criteria of selecting witnesses; which is a collective effort. We have at least 60000 pages of documents with over 100 hours of audio of previously recorded records. We shall have a total of 72 witnesses; twenty-five percent will be females by November 2019”, says counsel Obhof.

“As an attorney, my role is to protect the rights of the accused who deserves the right to equal defense. In this case so far, the government has been cooperative with safety of witnesses”,says Mr. Obhof.

 

GULU-UGANDA:The Defense team representing LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, who is being tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court (ICC), are currently in northern Uganda looking for witnesses to defend him.

According to assistant lead defense counsel, Mr. Obhof Thomas; his team wants to call a total of 72 witnesses to The Hague to defend Ongwen, 62 of who will appear in court while the rest will have their testimonies filed in court.

There are nine lawyers representing Dominic Ongwen before the ICC in a trial which began in 2016 when prosecution lawyers opened the case against him. Victims’ lawyers’ took over and completed calling their witnesses. It is now the turn for the defense team to defend him.

Mr. Obhof made this announcement recently during a briefing to the media in northern Uganda from the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) in Gulu, on how far the defense team has moved in the case against Ongwen.

“We have criteria of selecting witnesses; which is a collective effort. We have at least 60000 pages of documents with over 100 hours of audio of previously recorded records. We shall have a total of 72 witnesses, twenty-five percent will be females by November 2019” says Mr. Obhof.

Mr. Obhof said he has no reason to believe that the safety of defense witnesses cannot be guaranteed by Uganda government saying government is still cooperating well with the Defence team.

“As an attorney, my role is to protect the rights of the accused who deserves the right to equal defense. In this case so far, the government has been cooperative with safety of witnesses”, says Mr. Obhof.

He says their main challenge is that the ICC secretariat only provided 73006 Euros (US$84838 dollars) which is inadequate to facilitate their trips and hire investigators.

“Our biggest challenge is access to reasonable funds. The 73006 Euros meant for trips and hire investigators for ninety days does not even pay an investigator for one year. The ICC has not allocated funds equally to the defense”, complains Mr. Obhof.

Dominic Ongwen is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the ICC for crimes committed by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) soldiers under his command between 2002 and 2005 from four different locations of Abok, Lukodi, Odek and Pajule, all in northern Uganda.

The defense counsel, however said his team will look at the whole period of the war in Uganda from 1985, arguing, it makes no sense if they concentrated only on the period Ongwen is deemed to have committed the offences.

 Although the trial judges rejected a request of the defense team to file a ‘no case to answer’ plea, the counsel says his team is optimistic that Ongwen will win the case against him. He says prosecution is prosecuting Dominic Ongwen ‘on the crimes of the LRA’.

“It is the LRA which is on trial. The prosecution is prosecuting Dominic Ongwen on crimes of the LRA”, he says.

He says Ongwen is in good spirit and that the detention facility of at the ICC is the best in the whole world although miss local Acholi foods like sweet potatoes, millet and sesame paste.

According to Mr. Okwir D. Martin, an officer of the ICC’s Outreach team, they have been accompanying the defense lawyers, who have been on the ground in northern Uganda since August 17, 2008 trying to engage with various stakeholders.

“What was left was for the defense team to come to northern Uganda to talk to various stakeholders. Although the trial is taking place thousands of kilometers away, this trial goes into the hearts of the people of northern Uganda.

The defense lawyers will start to present its witnesses and their submissions on September 18, 2018.

Ongwen and five other commanders of the LRA including its leader Joseph Kony, who is still at large, are wanted by the ICC on multiple charges of crimes against humanity and sexual related crimes.

 

 

 

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