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Ugandan rebel commander goes on trial at ICC over war crimes

by Samuel Egadu and Ronald Ssekandi KAMPALA Uganda (Xinhua) -- Dressed in a grey suit, wearing a pink shirt and a blue tie, Dominic Ongwen, a former Ugandan rebel commander on Tuesday appeared before the judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague over war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the northern part of the country.

Thousands of miles away, back here in Uganda where he allegedly committed the crimes, his victims were glued to live screens as the trial was telecast live.

The victims were finally seeing their tormentor starting to face justice.

Ongwen was one of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commanders who were indicted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The LRA have been blamed for the killing of tens of thousands of people and making over two million others homeless and living in squalid internally displaced persons camps.

The outfit until 2006 when the war ended in Uganda was accused of willful killings, murder of innocent civilians, sexual enslavement, rape, abductions, mutilations, maiming and burning villages.

Ongwen is facing 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As Ongwen faces the court, analysts argue that the court will have an uphill task considering that Ongwen was captured by the LRA when he was a minor (aged 10 years) and later rose through the ranks, becoming a fierce commander.

Herman Von Hebel, the ICC Court Registrar who is in Uganda to watch with the victims the trial of Ongwen argued that it is going to be a complex case due to Ongwen being both a victim and a perpetrator.

"It’s a difficult situation.

"It’s about accountability.

"Was Ongwen responsible for the atrocities?

"What the lawyers will present is what the judges will use to base to get the verdict," said Hebel.

"This is historic for the victims.

"But it’s going to be a long process.

"Both views and statements will be heard.

"By the end of the proceedings, the judges will determine whether he is guilty or not guilty," he said.

Ongwen in his submission in Court argued that he was a victim of the LRA atrocities and that it was not him who committed the heinous crimes.

He said he did not understand that the charges against him.

The judges however argued that Ongwen understood the charges basing on his previous submissions.

"The Chamber is not persuaded that Ongwen does not understand the charges," one of the judges read out the Chamber’s decision after a 15-minute break.

Asked by the judges what his plea was about the charges, Ongwen pleaded not guilty.

"In the name of God, I deny all these charges in respect to the war in northern Uganda," Ongwen said.

According to the Court Registrar, over 4,000 victims of the fighting between the LRA and government troops in the two-decade insurgency will participate in the trial.

Witness protection is one of the key issues that are likely to come up during the trial.

There is fear that incriminating Ongwen will have repercussions.

Hebel argued that the Court would protect its witnesses to avoid cases of intermediation and interference.

He also noted that reparations for thousands of victims in the region would only be possible if Ongwen is found guilty or convicted.

"Reparations are only possible when a decision of guilty is reached.

"The accused person has to pay reparations to the victims.

"The question will be whether he can be able to pay.

"If he can’t, then we can look for other options," said Hebel.

Ongwen now becomes one of the other African warlords that are facing the global court.

Warlords from the war torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have faced trials.

The Court has also indicted some African leaders for instance Sudanese President Omar al Bashir provoking protests from leaders who accuse the Court of targeting them.

As this trial starts, the Court faces a tide of African countries that want to break away from it.

South Africa and Gambia have already given notice that they want to leave the ICC while another group of African countries are expected to announce their decisions when their leaders meet next month at the African Union summit.
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EARLIER REPORT:

Ugandan war crimes suspect Ongwen pleads not guilty at first trial day

THE HAGUE Holland (Xinhua) -- The trial in the case of Dominic Ongwen, an ex-commander of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), started on Tuesday in The Hague, with the accused pleading not guilty to the charges.

Presiding judge Bertram Schmitt started the trial by reading out the charges.

Ongwen is accused of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the long-lasting civil war in Uganda.

The crimes are related to attacks against the civilian population in the camps in Lukodi, Pajule, Odek and Abok between October 2003 and June 2004.

ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and trial lawyer Benjamin Gumpert followed judge Schmitt with their opening statements.

The hearings will continue on Wednesday with the opening statements of the legal representatives of the victims and will resume on Jan. 16, 2017.

Ongwen was arrested in the Central African Republic in January 2015 and transferred to the ICC’s custody later that month. The Court had issued an arrest warrant against Ongwen already in July 2005.

             

 

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