Ongwen pleads not guilty after plot to halt hearing flops

Tuesday December 6 2016

Ex-LRA rebel commander Dominic Ongwen (L) listens during his
Ex-LRA rebel commander Dominic Ongwen (L) listens during his ICC pre-trial at the Hague. File photo
Dominic Ongwen
Dominic Ongwen
By Tabu Butagira

Hague

The Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled on Tuesday that the former Lord's Resistance Army commander, Dominic Ongwen, understood the 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against him and that he must stand trial.

This followed a last-minute objection the defence led by Krispus Ayena Odongo raised with the Trial Chamber IX, that Ongwen did not understand the trial and that he required psychological or psychiatric examination to determine whether or not he is fit to stand trial.

The defence told court on the eve of the commencement of the trial that they had, from experts they engaged, learned that Ongwen was neither of the proper mind to understand the charges nor their grave nature while in the bush – and, therefore, "unfit" to stand trial.

The defence's last-minute objection, combined with Ongwen's response in which he said he understood the document but not the charges, prompted the presiding judge Bertram Schmitt to order a 15-minute break after which he said it was court's decision that Ongwen understood the charges because he said so during the pre-trial hearing in January this year.

Ongwen at the time, according to the judge, said "...whether the charges are read or not is all going to be a waste of time...I have read (the translated document) and understand it".

The charges that the suspect understood in January, the judge ruled, were not "materially different" from what was read to him in court.

Ongwen earlier sought to cast himself as a victim, having reportedly been abducted while 10 years old, and not a perpetrator to face trial and drew a line to distinguish himself from the LRA rebel group he said committed the crimes in northern Uganda.

Judge Schmitt guided Ongwen to respond to questions rather than ask questions of his own, assuring him that "you will receive a fair and an impartial hearing".

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