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What Awaits Ongwen on Judgment Day

16 Years after Uganda referred the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) justice will finally be served as the ICC delivers judgment on Dominic Ongwen on 4th February.
Dominic Ongwen During Trial At the International Criminal Court

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16 Years after Uganda referred the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) justice will finally be served as the ICC delivers judgment on Dominic Ongwen on 4th February.

In October 2005, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Joseph Kony and four top LRA commanders including Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Vincent Otti to answer for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Northern Uganda. Although Kony is still at large, only Ongwen is being tried as the rest have been reported dead. 

 

 The LRA  ravaged northern Uganda for over 20 years and are accused of pillaging, murder, rape, sexual enslavement, mutilation and recruitment of child soldiers among others.   

Dominic Ongwen, the then commander of the Sinia Brigade surrendered and has been on trial at the Hague-based court since 6 December 2016 and faced 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between 2002 and 2005 in Abok, Odek, Pajule and Lukodi camps for internally displaced persons in Northern Uganda. 

  

In total 231 hearings were held by judges and the Prosecutor presented 69 witnesses and experts in support of their case, while the defense led by Krispus Ayena Odongo Presented 54 witnesses and experts.

Victims also participated through their lawyers.   Now with Judgment set for Thursday 4th February at midday, Ongwen could either be found guilty, or not guilty, but there is a high possibility of an appeal whether a guilty or not guilty verdict is returned, according to the ICC outreach Coordinator Maria Kamara Mabinty.   Kamara was today speaking to journalists in a press conference held at Hotel Africana via zoom on the ICC judgement on Ongwen. 

    

If Guilty? 

With 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the judges will decide on each of them one by one, and Ongwen could be found guilty for all of them, not guilty for all, or guilty for some and not guilty for some, according to Kamara.          

In the event of a guilty verdict declaration, the judges will set a separate day for the sentence based on the judgment. Kamara says that the prosecution and defense have the right to appeal, and this could keep Ongwen on an interim release to a country that accepts him until the appeal is done. 

    

The Appeals chamber consists of judges who might not have participated in the trial, and their decision is final. She says the appeals chamber can reverse the matter entirely or uphold it. 

     

She says it is most likely that the two sides will appeal the ruling, since they have presented various motions appealing different decisions throughout the process.   If the appeals chamber upholds the verdict when guilty, Ogwen will face a maximum of 30 years in jail in the member state countries, or at an extreme end face life imprisonment as ICC does not sentence to death.      

//Cue in:  ”There are processes… 

Cue out:…appeal the decision”//     

According to Kamara, if Ongwen is guilty, there will be reparation in form of rehabilitation of thousands of victims, social support, and community support among others. This support comes from funding from the Trust Fund for victims.

In the event of an Acquittal? 

If the judges find Ongwen not guilty, an appeal can be made with the Trial Chamber, and based on this the judgment can be upheld, or overturned, or a pre-trial can be ordered at the discretion of the Chamber.

  If the chamber upholds the verdict, and no side appeals, processes are started to ensure that Ongwen is set free.   Kamara says that if Ongwen is found guilty, he is free to return to his country and it is up to the authorities in the country to ensure that Ongwen is protected like any other citizen. 

      

The chamber may order the release of Ongwen, but the Prosecutor may request that Ongwen remains in detention for exceptional reasons.     In the case of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Ble Goude after they were acquitted in January 2019 for accusations of crimes against humanity committed in Cote d’Ivoire, until today they are under interim release following an appeal by the prosecution.   

They are currently staying in Belgium pending the hearing of an appeal. This came with restrictions in movement and countries the person under temporary release travels to have to accept him.       

//Cue in: “It is up… 

Cue out:…as any citizen”//     

In terms of reparation, the victims will not get any support, and compensation except for ongoing social and psychosocial support. So far 56,000 victims have received this support. The victims cannot appeal to the ICC judges, but they can only present their views.     

The judgement will be delivered via the ICC video link, You Tube Channel , facebook among others. In Northern Uganda, video screening will be held in three locations in Gulu district, while several media houses will broadcast the live judgment. 

                                   

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