Maj Gen Dominic Ongwen, one of the top Lord’s Resistance Army commanders on Monday, made his maiden appearance in the dock at International Criminal Court (ICC) to answer to charges in connection to the offenses of crimes against humanity allegedly committed against the people of northern Uganda. Anthony Wesaka followed the 47-minutes court proceedings streamed live from The Hague, Netherlands before Pre-Trial Chamber II judge Ekaterina Trendafilova.
Judge Ekaterina: Good afternoon, at this point; i would like to invite the parties and the registrar to introduce themselves; beginning with the office of the prosecutor and for the record, I ask madam prosecutor to introduce yourself and the members of your team.
ICC prosecutor Ms Fatou Bensouda: Thank you madam president, the office of the prosecutor is represented this afternoon by Fatou Bensouda as prosecutor, James Stewar as deputy prosecutor, and Benjamin Gumpert as senior trial lawyer, thank you.
Judge: Thank you very much madam prosecutor, now I turn to defense counsel for Mr Ongwen, I invite you to introduce yourself to court and members of your team.
Helene Cisse: Thank you madam president, I shall speak in English in order to facilitate without translation. I am Ms Helene Cisse from the Bar of Senegal since 1982 and I am also an assistant counsel practicing in some cases under the jurisdiction of this court since 2009. I am standing in this courtroom today for the defence of Mr Dominic Ongwen in the capacity as lead counsel and it’s a great honour for me. Thank you.
Judge: Thank you Ms Cisse, and Mr Registrar it’s your turn.
Registrar: I am Herman Von Hebel, the registrar, thank you.
Judge: My name is Ekaterina Trendafilova and I am the presiding judge in trial chamber II and also a single judge in this case as designated by the full chamber under the decision of 21, January 2015. Mr Ongwen, please stand up and identify yourself to the court and in particular I invite to tell us your full name, your date of place of birth and finally your current profession. I would ask you to speak slowly as the interpreters have to do their job of translation. Switch on the microphone before you speak, the floor is over to you.
Ongwen: (he speaks through a female Luo translator). I thank you. First of all; I would like to thank God for creating heaven and earth; together with everybody that is on earth. My name is Dominic Ongwen, I am a Ugandan citizen from Northern Uganda.
I am from a small place called Choorum in Kilak County, Amuru District. I was born in 1975 and was abducted in 1988 and taken to the bush when I was 14 years old until now that I am before ICC. I would like to thank you very much. After my arrival, I was informed that I have been brought to ICC because of crimes.
Judge: Tell me your current profession.
Ongwen: Right now, I am unemployed, and that is all. Prior to my arrival at the court I was a soldier in the LRA.
Judge: At this point, I would like to address the issue of your language proficiency, Mr Ongwen, the chamber received a report from the Registry last Friday indicating your language proficiency. Still during this initial appearance, I have to hear from you personally Mr Ongwen whether you fully understand or speak either of the two working languages of this court French or English or any other language. Although we have already heard more answers, thanks to the support of the interpreter, we need to hear from you as well. What is the language that you fully listen to and speak?
Ongwen: The language I am proficient in is Luo and that is Acholi.
Judge: You may be seated. I would like to quote from the court registrar from last Friday who says you have been provided with the services of an Acholi interpreter who is assisting us today, I would like to thank the registrar.
I will shortly explain the nature and purpose of today’s initial appearance which is meant to be informative to Mr Ongwen and also anyone in attendance in and outside the courtroom.
Describing the nature and the purpose of today’s hearing should also set another objective and it is to invite the parties to strictly adhere to the subject matter of the initial appearance.
In particular for Mr Ongwen who is not familiar with proceedings established under the Rome Statute; I should underline that the initial appearance is not a trial nor a confirmation hearing.
No evidence will be presented or collected today. Nor will the issue of innocence be addressed; complicated or decided. The right and purpose of today’s hearing is doubled by two statutory provisions of namely; article 60 paragraph One of the Rome Statute and Rule 121 paragraph One of the Rules of procedure of this court which laminate the limited scope of the initial appearance; thus today the chamber must satisfy itself first that you Mr Ongwen you are informed of the crimes to which you are alleged to have committed.
Secondly; that you are also informed of your rights under the statutory governance of the ICC. And finally, the trial chamber must set up the date on which it will commence to court the confirmation charges hearing pursuant to which the chamber will through composition will confirm or drop the charges brought against you. I would like to ask the court officer to read out the counts as presented in the warrant of arrest to Mr Ongwen in 2005.
Court officer: Pursuant to the public warrant of arrest registered as ICC020401057 dated July 8, 2005 concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Dominic Ongwen together with other persons whose arrests are sought by the prosecutor ordered for the commission of crime within the jurisdiction of the court namely; crimes against humanity and war crimes; particulars of which are set out in the following counts;
First count: in 2004, Mr Ongwen ordered the commission of murder as a crime against humanity, which infact occurred; namely the unlawful killing civilian residents of IDP camps in Uganda pursuant to article (7) 1 a of 25 (3) b of the Statute.
Second count: in 2004; Mr Ongwen ordered the commission of enslavement as a crime against humanity which infact occurred namely the enslavement of civilian residents of IDP camps in Uganda pursuant to article 7 (1) c and 25 (3) b of the Rome Statute.
Third count: in 2004, Mr Ongwen ordered the commission of inhumane acts as a crime against humanity ;which infact occurred, namely the inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury upon civilian residents of IDP camp in Uganda pursuant to articles 7 (1) k and 25 (3) b of the Statute
Fourth count: in 2004, Mr Ongwen ordered the commission of murder as a war crime; which infact occurred namely; the killings of civilian residents of IDP camp in Uganda pursuant to articles 8 (2), c I and 25 (3) b of the Statute
Fifth count: in 2004, Mr Ongwen ordered for the commission of cruel treatment as a war crime, which infact occurred; namely the cruel treatment of civilian residents of IDP camp in Uganda pursuant to articles 8 (2) C (i) and 25 (3) b of the Statute.
Sixth count: in 2004; Mr Ongwen ordered the commission of the attack against the civilian population as a war crime which infact occurred namely; the impunishable against the civilian population of IDP camp pursuant to articles 8 (2) e (i) and 25 (3) b of the Statute.
Seventh count: in 2004; Mr Ongwen ordered the commission of pillaging as a war crime which infact occurred namely; the pillaging of IDP camp in Uganda pursuant to articles 8 (2) e and 25 (3) b of the Statute.
Judge: Thank you may be seated; before I proceed further; I should clarify to Mr Ongwen and his defence lawyer that the counts that have just been read are both appearing with the warrant of arrest provided to Mr Ongwen and his defense counsel numbered as; count 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 42 and 43. This is the order of the counts provided in the prosecutor’s application in the trial chamber for issue of warrants of arrest.
After this clarification on my part, I will ask Mr Ongwen whether he has been informed of the crimes set out in the warrant of arrest by the prosecutor.
Ongwen: I have been informed.
Judge: Thank you very much. Now I come to the second issue that falls within the scope of today’s initial appearance. Actually, the issue of whether the suspect has knowledge of the rights that are accorded to suspects before the ICC. I would still need your personal answer Mr Ongwen?
Ongwen: I have been informed of my rights correctly.
Judge: The secretary regime of this court in accordance with international recognised human rights; accord the suspect the following rights; Mr Ongwen, you will be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the trial with a body fully placed constituted to prove your guilty. Next, you have the right to be informed promptly of the charges in the language which you fully understand and speak which in this case is Luo or Acholi.
Next you will have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of your defence to show your innocence or to mitigate your guilty which may affect the credibility of the incriminating evidence. You may put questions to or examine witnesses. You have a right to be tried without unduly delay. You also have the right of the confirmation hearing to; object to the charges, change the evidence presented by the prosecutor and to present the evidence yourself. No trial in case the charges are unconfirmed and the proceedings before the ICC are terminated. However, you should also be mindful that the chamber can order you to appear if it considers necessary and decides that they cannot hold the hearing in your absence.
Similarly; you are entitled to wave your right to participate inside the courtrooms proceedings and you also have a right to apply to be released as provided by article 16 and Rule 118 (1) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence. You also have a right to appeal certain decisions of the court. Also have the right to choose your own counsel that might be Ms Cisse or anyone else.
Finally, being satisfied of having informed him of the crimes he is alleged to have committed and his rights, the last issue on our agenda is setting the date of the confirmation of charges chamber. First and fore-more most, I should recall that this is first and oldest case we have in the ICC.
In this regard it’s useful to recall some of the procedural developments in the current case. It was on December 16, 2003 when the Republic of Uganda with the letter of referral came to the ICC with a situation concerning the LRA in Northern and Eastern Uganda. Following the investigations by the prosecutor, applied for the arrest warrant against five leaders of LRA including Mr Dominic Ongwen.
On July 8, 2005, the trial chamber II issued a warrant of arrest against Mr Ongwen and almost ten years have lapsed. Obviously this will call for the parties particularly the office of the prosecutor to organise their office according to the new developments for the confirmation of charges hearing. The chamber has provisionally decided to set August 24, 2015 as the date for hearing of confirmation charges.
Judge: Now, Ms Cisse you can address any issue you would like to the chamber. The judges of this chamber have considered an appropriate date considering for the confirmation hearing taking in a number circumstances.
Cisse: Thank you madam president, I just want to underline the fact that the English of Mr Ongwen is just less than basic; he was abducted at a very young age and has been staying in the bush all this long; therefore it’s crucial for him as soon as possible to translation into Acholi all the possible evidence. He can only start to prepare his defence after receiving these documents so it’s important that the registry takes steps along with Mr Ongwen to have him access to all these documents. Thank you so much.
Judge: I am going to issue a decision in this regard soon and we you will see that the court documents in this issue are translated. I would like to thank the parties, the registrar and his team, the court reporters, court officers, security officers, court staff also I would like to thank Mr Ongwen for his respectful behavior. And on this, I can announce the initial hearing of Mr Ongwen closed.
Court officer: Arise everybody.