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
"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
"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
Witness protection is one of the key issues that are likely to come up during
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
Warlords from the war torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have faced
The Court has also indicted some African leaders for instance Sudanese
President Omar al Bashir provoking protests from leaders who accuse the Court of
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.
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.