ICC: DEFENSE TEAM OF DOMINIC ONGWEN ABOUT TO CONCLUDE GIVING EVIDENCES BEFORE COURT

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ICC:  Mr. Dahirou and Ms. Betty, consulting during a media briefing in Gulu

“Judges will retire to evaluate evidences and determine if Mr. Ongwen is guilty or not after the closing statements of the lawyers representing both sides. If we are lucky, by this time next year (October 2020), we would be hearing the ruling by the judges”

“We called in expert witnesses on mental illness who proved that the alleged orders which were being issues to LRA fighter by spirits to commit crimes are actually his own orders. Sometimes you can escape from the LRA or go against orders from Mr. Kony contrary to what the defense team would like the world to believe. Several former LRA fighters testified how they managed to escape. The defense team would like to call one rebuttal witness on that and we have the opportunity to cross examine the witness”

GULU-UGANDA: The trials of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) warlord, Mr. Dominic Ongwen, who was arraigned before the International Criminal Court (ICC) more than three years ago is nearly coming to the end of giving evidences by the defense team.

The warrant to arrest Dominic Ongwen and four other top commanders of the LRA was issued by the ICC on July 8, 2005 and unsealed on October 13, 2005. He was charged with 70 counts for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed between 2002 and 2005 in northern Uganda. Mr. Ongwen was the alleged Brigade Commander of the Sinia Brigade of the LRA.

Born in 1977 in the village of Coorom in Amuru district, northern Uganda and as the head of one of the four LRA brigades, Mr. Ongwen was a member of the “Control Altar’ of the rebel outfit that directs military strategy.

He was abducted in 1988 while on his way to Koro Abili Primary School in Omoro district, hardly six kilometers from the Provincial city of Gulu. Once abducted, he was tortured badly and forced to watch violent rituals of people being butchered and was subsequently indoctrinated becoming one of the most loyal LRA fighters.

Initially, he was charged with four counts of crimes against humanity for the crimes he allegedly committed at Lukodi Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp in Gulu district on May 20, 2004.

The expanded charges against him to reach a total of 70 counts include sexual and gender based crimes which his forces in the Sinia Brigade committed in three other locations of Pajule IDP, Odek IDP and Abok IDP besides the others in Lukodi.

At the end of 2014, Mr. Ongwen escaped from his boss, Mr. Joseph Kony having disobeyed his (Kony’s) orders and refusing to answer numerous Kony’s radio messages.

Having escaped the LRA camp near Songo in Kafias Kingi in Central African Republic (CAR), where the LRA rebels took refuge to, Dominic Ongwen came across some nomadic cattle herders who took him to a Seleka rebel group near Sam Ouandja in CAR.

The former Seleka rebel commander, who did not know the identity of Mr. Ongwen, reached out to a merchant in Mboki, who in turn called an NGO worker in Obo who latter reached out to American Special Forces base in Obo, CAR. The American Special Force dispatched a helicopter which picked Mr. Ongwen, who was then handed over to the Uganda People’s Defense Forces.

The first time Mr. Ongwen appeared before an ICC court was on January 26, 2015 where he appeared before a single Judge, Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova of the Pre-Trial Chamber II where he was expected to check his Identity but not enter any plea.

During a media briefing at the Gulu based Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC), on October 19th 2019, the ICC International Cooperation Advisor in the Office of the Prosecutor, Mr. Dahirou Sant- Anna said Ongwen’s defense team who initially said they will rely on 72 witnesses, have revised that number to 69.

According to another ICC officer, Ms. Betty Hohler, Associate Trial Lawyer, the defense is expected to call the final witness to testify by the end of November 2019 or early January 2020. She says between January and February 2020, the lawyers in the case will be making their closing statements, which would mean the trial would conclude; after which judges will retire to evaluate evidences and write their rulings.

“Judges will retire to evaluate evidences and determine if Mr. Ongwen is guilty or not after the closing statements by lawyers representing both sides. If we are lucky, by this time next year (October 2020), we would be hearing the ruling by the judges”, Ms. Betty says.

Mr. Dahirou, says Ongwen’s defense team wants to rely on duress, mental incapacitation of Mr. Ongwen at the time of committing those crimes and strong belief that spirits controls LRA fighters pleas which the prosecution team he says, will try to proof otherwise.

“We called in expert witnesses on mental illness who proved that the alleged orders which were being issues to LRA fighter by spirits to commit crimes are actually his own orders. Sometimes you can escape from the LRA or go against orders from Mr. Kony contrary to what the defense team would like the world to believe. Several former LRA fighters testified how they managed to escape. The defense team would like to call one rebuttal witness on that and we have the opportunity to cross examine the witness”, says Mr. Dahirou.

 

 

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