Dominic Ongwen, the LRA Commander who was recently captured in Central African Republic will be conveyed to International Criminal Court for trial, UPDF Spokesperson Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda says.
Ankunda says Ongwen will be delivered to the Hague-based court by CAR authorities. “Finally it has been decided. Dominic Ongwen will be tried at the ICC in the Hague,” Ankunda tweeted moments ago.
The announcement ends a debate on whether; the former child soldier would be tried in Uganda or by the ICC which indicted him ten years ago alongside four other leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
According to the indictment, Ongwen is charged with criminal responsibility for crimes committed in northern Uganda in 2004.
These include three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, enslavement, and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering) and four counts of war crimes (murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, and pillaging).
Thousands of lives are estimated to have been lost in the orgy of terror perpetuated by the LRA in the northern part of Uganda and neighboring countries for nearly two decades.
International human rights activists, Amnesty international and Human rights Watch have called for his transfer to The Hague since the day he surrendered to Seleka rebels in CAR.
“The people of northern Uganda have waited almost 10 years for the warrants issued by the ICC against leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army to be executed.
Dominic Ongwen now needs to be held to account for the numerous charges he faces of murder, mutilation, and forced recruitment of child soldiers and use of sex slaves – crimes he allegedly committed when he was a senior commander of the LRA” Michelle Kagari, Deputy Regional Director for Amnesty International said in a statement last week.
What are Ongwen’s rights as a suspect?
A statement by Human rights watch explains that under the ICC’s Rome Statute, an arrested person should be brought before the competent judicial authority of the custodial state, which should determine if Ongwen’s rights have been respected according to the relevant domestic law.
Notably, under the law of the Central African Republic, Ongwen should have immediate access to a lawyer and information about the charges against him in a language he understands by a local magistrate, the statement adds.
Under international fair trial standards such as found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the ICC’s Rome Statute, Ongwen is generally entitled to information about the charges against him in a language he understands, a presumption of innocence as well as adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense.
He will also not be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt; he will have a lawyer of his own choosing and will be protected from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
Could Ongwen be tried in Uganda?
Uganda is a state party to the ICC’s Rome Statute and was the first country to request an ICC investigation.
Under the Rome Statute, the ICC only prosecutes cases when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute. Once a case has been taken up by the court, as in the Ongwen case, it would only revert to national courts on the basis of what is known as an admissibility challenge, in which a state can show that it is investigating and prosecuting him for the same crimes.
In 2011 Uganda officially established an International Crimes Division to try war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other crimes.
Although national trials could make an important contribution to securing justice for crimes committed during the conflict in northern Uganda, serious legal obstacles have emerged that call into question whether the division can fulfill its potential as a meaningful forum to ensure accountability.
The only case related to the conflict in northern Uganda that has been brought before the International Crimes Division is against Thomas Kwoyelo, a former LRA member captured in Congo in March 2009, who is charged with war crimes.
However, Kwoyelo’s trial was stopped after Uganda’s Constitutional Court concluded that he had been treated unequally under the Amnesty Act and ordered his release.
He remains in prison while an appeal of the Constitutional Court ruling is pending before Uganda’s Supreme Court.
Since 2009, when the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for crimes in Darfur, the court has faced hostility from some African leaders.
The backlash increased in 2013 when Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, both accused by the ICC of crimes committed during Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence, were elected president and deputy president of Kenya. The case against Kenyatta was dropped in late 2014.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has supported criticism of the ICC and suggested pushing for withdrawal by African countries from the ICC at the next African Union summit.