Former LRA Commander Dominic Ongwen to Be Tried: First ICC Trial for Wide Range of Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes

(The Hague, Paris, Kampala) Tomorrow, the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will hear the opening statements in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former senior commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Our organisations welcome the commencement of this important trial as a first concrete step to justice for more than 4000 participating victims and thousands of Ugandan survivors of the most serious crimes, in particular of sexual and gender-based crimes, committed by the LRA in Northern Uganda between 2002 and 2005.

“Facing the lack of national judicial proceedings targeting LRA top leaders, victims of LRA crimes have been waiting for justice for up to fourteen years. We hope that Ongwen’s trial will shed the light on the horrendous crimes suffered by communities in Northern Uganda and his alleged responsibility. We also hope that this trial will be followed by other proceedings targeting those who bear the greatest responsibility, thereby contributing to more accountability and deterrence of crimes in the region.”

Sheila Muwanga, FIDH Vice-President and FHRI Deputy Executive Director (Programs)

Dominic Ongwen is charged with being criminally responsible for 70 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The charges include 19 charges of sexual and gender-based crimes, counts related to the use and conscription of child soldiers, attacks on camps of internally displaced persons (IDP) and persecution during the cycle of violence in Northern Uganda from 2002 to 2005. Our organisations especially welcome the extension of charges by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor in 2015, particularly to include charges of rape, forced marriage, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery, which were previously excluded from the counts against him. This is the first ICC trial for the charges of forced pregnancy and forced marriage.

4107 victims have been granted the right to participate in the proceedings. 2601 are represented by two external lawyers of their choice, who are participating in the Ongwen case and only a few days ago were granted with legal aid. After the Trial Chamber judge decided not to grant legal aid for external counsels chosen by victims, considering only Court-chosen counsels should be entitled to legal assistance paid by the Court and leaving it up to the Registrar’s prerogative, the Registrar decided on 29 November to provide means for the external counsels’ team [1].

“We welcome the Registrar’s decision to grant legal aid to victims participating in this case and represented by the counsel of their choice. The history of victims’ engagement has been unprecedented in Uganda. The legal aid should be now designed and implemented by the Registry in a way to effectively satisfy victims’ rights and needs in order to ensure the most meaningful participation.”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

For more information on the Ongwen case, see FIDH-FHRI Q&A.

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