By Susan Kendi and Tom Maliti
Lawyers for former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen will begin presenting his defence on September 18, 2018 at the International Criminal Court. Subsequently, the lawyers have been granted 10 days, from September 27 to October 10, 2018, to lay out their first block of evidence.
Defence lawyers will have up to five hours to present their opening statement before commencing the presentation of during their first evidentiary block.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt, acting as Single Judge for Trial Chamber IX, allocated the time in a decision published on the ICC website on June 5, 2018. Ongwen’s lawyers had requested a status conference in mid-June, and it is now not clear if that request will receive a response.
On June 4, 2018 Defence lawyers filed the final lists of witnesses and evidence for presentation after the prosecution and the legal representative for victims concluded presenting their evidence.
The prosecution’s case ran between January 2017 and April 12, 2018 with 69 witnesses testifying in the trial. ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda formally notified Trial Chamber IX of the completion of her evidence presentation on April 13, 2018.
The recently concluded victims’ phase of the trial heard seven witnesses, four experts and three participating victims; a counsellor, a teacher and Victim V-2. The witnesses testified on the impact the 30-year-conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan People’s Defence Force had on the population in the northern part of the country and the victims’ suffering.
Two years ago, the presiding judge issued directions on the proceedings, which included details of how the trial would include the presentation of evidence by the prosecution, the Legal Representatives for Victims (LRVs) and the Defence.
Ongwen is facing 70 charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with attacks on camps for internally displaced persons in Abok, Pajule, Odek and Lukodi. Meanwhile, Tom Maliti, a renowned journalist with the International Justice Monitor, has summarised the prosecution’s case Ongwen prosecution case in the number of days, the witnesses that testified, locations attacked, charges and crimes that the accused is alleged to have committed.
In an article published by International Justice Monitor on June 6, 2018, this is the summary of the prosecution numbers.
142 days: The time it took for prosecution witnesses to testify. The first prosecution witness began testifying on January 16, 2017. The last one concluded their testimony on April 12, 2018.
69 witnesses: The number of prosecution witnesses who testified before the International Criminal Court (ICC) between January 2017 and April 2018. A wide range of witnesses testified, including experts, members of Ugandan security agencies, former members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and survivors of attacks on four camps for internally displaced people (IDP).
Categories of Witnesses
48 witnesses testified using in-court protective measures: These prosecution witnesses used protective measures to protect their identity or their privacy because of the nature of crimes they testified about. The measures included witnesses testifying under a pseudonym and their face being distorted in public broadcasts of their testimony. Two or so of the witnesses also had their voices distorted in public broadcasts. Single Judge Bertram Schmitt decided on which witnesses would testify under in-court protective measures on November 29, 2016.
21 prosecution witnesses testified in open court: These witnesses included experts, members of Ugandan security agencies, and different categories of members of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
31 prosecution witnesses can be categorized as insider witnesses: These witnesses testified about Ongwen’s alleged role in the crimes he has been charged with. Some of the insider witnesses testified about the inner workings of the LRA. Others testified about what they knew about Ongwen because they were under his direct supervision or worked closely with him or under the supervision of someone who worked closely with him. Most of these witnesses shared a similar path to the one Ongwen followed. These men, and some women, were abducted at a young age by the LRA and then went on to participate in attacks as fighters or gather and carry loot. The insider witnesses who testified ranged from long-serving LRA members to those who were with the LRA for a few months.
21 prosecution witnesses can be categorized as crimes-based witnesses: These witnesses testified about the crimes Ongwen is alleged to have had a role in, but most of them did not have any direct or indirect knowledge about Ongwen’s alleged role in those crimes. Many of the witnesses were survivors of LRA attacks on the Abok, Lukodi, Odek and Pajule IDP camps. Some of them were survivors of sex and gender-based crimes Ongwen is alleged to have had an indirect role in.
Eight experts testified for the prosecution: Two prosecution staff members and an expert in enhancing audio recordings are among the experts who testified. A historian, an expert on DNA, two psychiatrists, and a psychologist are the other experts who testified.
Nine members of Ugandan security agencies testified: Four of them are people who intercepted LRA radio communications for the Uganda People’s Defense Force, the Internal Security Organisation, and the police. Two of them were high-ranking intelligence officers. Two others commanded units in the Ugandan military. One of them is a long-serving administrator who at one time was also an intelligence officer.
70 counts: The total amount of war crimes and crimes against humanity the prosecution is charging against Ongwen. He is alleged to have committed these crimes between July 1, 2002 and December 31, 2005. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all the counts.
Below are the different categories of crimes Ongwen has been charged with. The summaries below are an indication of the quantity of evidence the prosecution presented. They are not an indication of the quality of the witnesses’ testimony or the strength of the evidence the prosecution presented.
10 witnesses testified about the LRA attack on the Abok IDP camp on June 8, 2004. Those who spoke about the Abok attack included survivors and former LRA fighters who were members of the Sinia brigade Ongwen was a member of. A commander with the Ugandan army also testified about the Abok attack.
7 witnesses testified about the LRA attack on the Lukodi IDP camp on May 19, 2004. Survivors and former LRA fighters testified about the attack. Most of the former LRA fighters who testified were members of the Sinia brigade that Ongwen belonged to. One of them was a member of the sick bay of a different brigade, Gilva.
18 witnesses testified about the April 29, 2004 attack on the Odek IDP camp. Former members of the LRA of different ranks and from different brigades spoke to the court about the attack. Survivors also testified, including a childhood friend of LRA leader Joseph Kony. A commander of the Ugandan army also gave testimony.
17 witnesses testified about the October 10, 2003 attack on the Pajule IDP camp. Many of them were former LRA members of different ranks and who belonged to different brigades. Several survivors also testified as did two commanders of the Ugandan army.
Sex and Gender-based Crimes
7 witnesses testified before the Single Judge of Pre-Trial II about Ongwen’s alleged direct role in crimes they allege were committed against them. The transcripts of their testimony have been adopted as evidence in the trial following an August 10, 2016 decision of Trial Chamber IX. The chamber made this decision using Article 56 of the ICC’s founding law, the Rome Statute.
6 witnesses testified about Ongwen’s alleged indirect role in the crimes they allege were committed against them. Five of them were women who alleged Ongwen had a role in their being given as “wives” to men in the brigade Ongwen belonged to. In addition to the six, two other witnesses testified about sex and gender-based crimes in the LRA.
Conscripting Child Soldiers
Many insider and crimes-based witnesses testified about either Ongwen’s alleged role in conscripting child soldiers or how the LRA regularly conscripted child soldiers. They told the court about their abduction and the rituals and beatings they were subjected to initiate them into the LRA.