By Spy Uganda
Kampala: Following February 4, 2021, ruling against former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen over 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity, his lawyer has already filed an appeal contesting the judgement.
According to Ongwen’s lead lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo, “It was a bad judgement, we are appealing and there are several grounds on which to challenge my client’s conviction, which if commuted, could see him jailed for up to 30 years.”
The four grounds are: That the Court did not evaluate evidence of the defence — including proof that Ongwen was “a prisoner” in an LRA camp when the attack at Pajule took place; that the crimes related to forced marriage could not have taken place since there was no “traditional or any other type of marriage in the bush.”
Mr Odongo also argues that Ongwen is a victim, abducted in 1988 and forcibly conscripted into the LRA ranks as a nine-year-old child. But, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda argued that the crimes the ex-LRA commander was tried for are those committed as an adult between 2002 and 2005.
In the appeal, the defence also intends to challenge the evidence given by Ongwen’s wives.
“In common law, a spouse is not a compelling witness against their partner. But in this trial, it happened, and we want to challenge that,” Mr Odongo said.
Ongwen’s lawyers also argue that he is only barely literate in his mother-tongue Acholi, and the entire 1,077-page judgement should be translated into the language he understands.
“Ongwen can only fully and meaningfully participate in his appeal with an Acholi translation of the judgment because he is a special needs person with mental disabilities, and requires adequate time and resources to communicate with and instruct his Counsel,” the application filed on February 8 reads.
Background Of The Matter
The Netherlands-based court on earlier this month found Dominic Ongwen, 45, guilty of charges relating to crimes including murder, rape, torture and sexual slavery carried out by the LRA in the early 2000s.
“His guilt has been established beyond any reasonable doubt,” presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said as he read out the verdict.
He could now be imprisoned for life, though judges will address sentencing at a later date. His lawyers had asked for an acquittal.
The case was the first at the tribunal in The Hague to involve an alleged perpetrator and victim of the same war crimes, with Ongwen himself having been abducted by the LRA as a child.
Under the leadership of fugitive rebel Joseph Kony, the LRA terrorised Ugandans for nearly two decades as it battled the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in the north of the country and in what is now South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
In 2004, the Ugandan government referred the conflict with the LRA to the ICC, the world’s first permanent tribunal for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The United Nations says the LRA killed more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children during its campaign of violence, which ended in 2005 when military pressure forced the armed group out of Uganda and its members scattered across parts of central Africa.