By Janet Sankale
The start of the hearing of the appeal of former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen is set for February 14 to 18, 2022.
According to an International Criminal Court Appeals Chamber decision dated November 17, 2021, Judge Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza (presiding), Judge Piotr Hofmański, Judge Solomy Balungi Bossa, Judge Reine Alapini-Gansou, and Judge Gocha Lordkipanidze will hear submissions and observations by the parties and participants.
“Having regard to the recommended time limits set in the Chambers Practice Manual, and considering the novelty and complexity of some of the issues, the number of grounds of appeal raised by the defence, and further noting the upcoming judicial recess, the Appeals Chamber sees fit to schedule the hearing from 14 to 18 February 2022, shortly after the expiry of the time limit stipulated in the Chamber’s Practice Manual,” the notice said.
The Chambers Practice Manual, adopted by the ICC judges, contains a voluntary commitment to try and limit the duration of proceedings. International courts are notorious for presiding over cases that last for years.
On May 6, 2021, Trial Chamber IX sentenced Ongwen to a total period of imprisonment of 25 years as a joint sentence after finding him guilty of 61 of the 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he had been accused of.
On February 4, 2021, it had convicted him of leading attacks on civilians in the Pajule, Odek, Lukodi, and Abok camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda between July 1, 2002, and December 31, 2005.
Ongwen’s lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, appealed against the conviction and sentence, and raised at lease 90 grounds of appeal in its filing of May 21, 2021.
Odongo argued that the court failed to read the charges against Ongwen in a language that he reads and understands. This included the judgement, which he accused the court of failing to translate or interpret into the Acholi language, the only language that Ongwen is literate in. He contended that without such a translation, his fair trial rights were violated.
Ongwen’s counsel also argued that the court treated the victims’ quoted views as testimonial evidence, relying on them for the purpose of the sentencing judgement.
Odongo argued that his client is a victim who was abducted and integrated into the violent environment of the LRA when he was a child in 1998. He further argued that the court relied on evidence indicating that between 1996 and 1998 he abducted several girls, raped them, and made them his so-called “wives”, to aggravate his sentence. However, the ICC Prosecutor argued that the evidence was used as a mitigating circumstance.
The counsel argued that the court failed to consider the mental state of the appellant and that his client is a special needs person with mental disabilities and requires adequate time and resources to communicate with.
Odongo said his client was only nine years old when he was abducted, adding that concluding that he was culpable as an adult for crimes for which he was convicted and trial chamber erroneously rejected the defence child soldier expert evidence that the effects of abduction on child soldiers continue beyond the age of 18.
Ongwen intends to challenge the unsworn statement that he gave during the sentencing hearing on April 15, 2021. The defence argued that Ongwen was not in his overall state during that time, and it was improper for the chamber to use the statement to reject mitigating factors. The lawyer further argued that his client suffers from diagnosed mental disabilities and wants the Appeals Chamber to reverse the trial court’s decision and remand the issue back to the chamber for reconsideration of the sentences and joint sentence.
The court had failed to determine the union between the appellant and the alleged so-called “wives” were indeed marriages, argued the defence. The trial chamber had found that the elements of the offence of “forced marriage” were established, thereby finding the appellant guilty of the offence of forced marriage, thus occasioning a miscarriage of justice.
Ongwen was among five top LRA commanders indicted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Others are the elusive LRA leader Joseph Kony, and Vincent Otti. The judges terminated the proceedings against Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo after confirming their deaths.