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Thursday, 04 February 2016 17:59

Dominic Ongwen ICC Pre-Trial: FAQ


Dominic Ongwen is a former second-in-command to Joseph Kony, within the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who was surrendered to the Seleka rebels at the Central African Republic –South Sudan border in January 2015.  He is now in custody of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Who is Dominic Ongwen?

Mr. Ongwen is an adult Ugandan allegedly born in 1975 in Amuru District, in northern Uganda.  He admits he is a former commander of the LRA and that he was abducted around the age of 14 years. 


What crimes is Dominic Ongwen accused of committing? 

Mr. Ongwen is accused of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. 

Specifically, there are 70 charges against Dominic Ongwen – 34 crimes against humanity and 36 war crimes, as follows:;

  • 10 charges concern crimes committed in the Pajule IDP camp;
  • 13 charges concern crimes in the Odek IDP camp;
  • 13 charges concern crimes in the Lukodi IDP camp;
  • 13 charges concern crimes related to a 2004 attack on the Abok IDP camp;
  • 8 charges concern sexual and gender based crimes; 
  • 2 charges concern crimes of conscription and use of children under the age of 15 to participate in hostilities; and 
  • 11 other charges are confidential and have not been disclosed for the security of witnesses.


What are war crimes and crimes against humanity?

The Rome Statute provides for the laws under which Dominic Ongwen is being charged; these are but are not limited to;

Crimes against humanity include, but are not limited to:

  • Murder;
  • Extermination;
  • Enslavement;
  • Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
  • Torture;
  • Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
  • Enforced disappearance of persons; and
  • The crime of apartheid

These crimes MUST have been committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.

War crimes are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, 

which include but are not limited to:

  • Wilful killing  of civilians; 
  • Taking of hostages;
  • Extensive destruction of property;
  • Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; and 
  • Torture or inhumane treatment. 

War crimes also include other serious violations of laws and customs, within the framework of international law which entail acts committed during international and non-international armed conflicts. Such war crimes specifically include;

  • Intentional attacks against the civilian population not taking direct part in the hostilities;
  • Attacking or bombarding  by whatever means, tons, villages, dwellings or buildings undefended and which are not military objects;
  • Killing or wounding treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;
  • Committing rape, sexual slavery,  enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy; and
  • Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities. 

*Please note that the list above is not exhaustive but illustrative.


When and where were the alleged crimes committed? 

The charges against Mr. Ongwen are for crimes committed in Northern Uganda, from 2002, specifically in the Districts of Lira, Apac, Pader, Gulu, Kitgum, Soroti, Katakwi and Kaberamaido.  


Which court will try Dominic Ongwen?

The ICC will try Mr. Ongwen. The Court is a permanent institution that has the power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern and it is complementary to national criminal jurisdictions.

The ICC has the power to try crimes committed only after it was established, or crimes committed after 1st July 2002.   He was one of the 5 persons indicted by the ICC who were to be tried once captured.  Of the Five, three of them; Vincent Otti (formerly Second in Command of the LRA), Raska Lukwiya, and Okot Odhiambo have been confirmed dead. Only Joseph Kony remains at large.


When did the trial against Mr. Ongwen start? 

Mr. Ongwen is the first LRA member to appear before the ICC. While some preliminary hearings have been held, Mr. Ongwen’s trial has not yet begun. In fact, the ICC had a hearing to confirm charges made against him from 21st January 2016 to 27th January 2016.


What does Confirmation of Charges mean?

According to the Article 61(1) of Rome Statute, the Pre- Trial Chamber must hold, holds a hearing to confirm the charges on which the prosecution intends to seek trial.

In other words, confirmation of charges is a process to determine whether or not Mr. Ongwen has a case to answer.  After this determination is made, he can be released if there is no case or he can be further detained for trial, if there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe he committed any one of the counts alleged.


When will the trial begin?

The trial will only begin if the Judges in the Pre-Trial Chamber decide that Mr.Ongwen has a case to answer before the ICC. Once the ICC has made public the confirmation of charges decision, a date will be set for full trial. This will be determined within 60 days of 27th January 2016.


Will the trial be open to the public? 

Yes, in normal circumstances. For members of the public who cannot be in the ICC courtroom in the Hague, Netherlands, because of limited space, alternative viewing arrangements will have been organised outside the courtroom.  Weekly updates as well as video footage of public trials (with a 30 minute delay) are available at the ICC website:


Does Dominic Ongwen have a lawyer?

Yes, he has Mr. Krispus Odongo Ayena, a Ugandan Lawyer, to lead his defence team and has also been represented by duty counsel in the pre-trial hearings.  The defence team consists of four members, including legal assistants.  


Who makes up the prosecution?

The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) is one of the four organs of the ICC and is headed by Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor, who took office on 15 June 2012. 

The Office Investigates and Prosecutes genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by nationals of a State Party or on the territory of a State Party on or after 1 July 2002, the date of entry into force of the Rome Statute. This is the team responsible for proving Ongwen’s guilt.


What are the fair-trial rights of the accused?

Dominic Ongwen has the same as the rights of any other accused, guaranteed by Article 66 and 67 of the Rome Statute.  These include and are not limited to the following:

  • The presumption of innocence, until proven guilty;
  • The right to be informed about his case in the language he fully understands and speaks;
  • The right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his or her defence;
  • The right to be tried without undue delay;
  • The right to be present  in person at his or her trial;
  • The right to be afforded facilities to examine witnesses and to obtain the attendance of other witnesses before the court;
  • The right to have an interpreter without any cost; and
  • The right not to be compelled to confess guilt and to remain silent without such silence being considered in determination of his guilt or innocence.


 By Margaret Ajok, Advisor Transitional Justice (JLOS Secretariat) | Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information

 Published: February 4, 2016

Published in Transitional Justice


KAMPALA - The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Mrs Fatou Bensouda on February 27 2015 met the Deputy Attorney General and State for  Justice and Constitutional Affairs Hon Fredrick Ruhindi. Hon. Ruhindi who represented the Attorney General who is out of the country on official duties was accompanied by a team comprising the Director of Public Prosecutions, Hon. Justice Mike Chibita, the Minster in Charge of Northern Uganda, Ms.  Amuge Rebecca Otengo,  the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs Amb. James Mugume, Commissioners and Directors and heads of departments at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. Mrs Fatou Bensouda is in Uganda on 5-day working visit to provide updates on the activities of her office, in particular in relation to the case of Mr Dominic Ongwen, and discuss issues of mutual interests.

The Deputy Attorney General in his opening remarks thanked the ICC  Prosecutor for paying a visit to the Attorney General and noted that Uganda was committed to fighting impunity and ensuring accountability for international crimes - a gesture which was well stated with handover former LRA Commander Maj. Gen. Dominic Ongwen to the ICC.

He clarified misinformation by the press that stated that the Attorney General would offer legal representation to Dominic Ongwen at the ICC. Hon. Ruhindi emphasised that the state would not offer legal representation to Mr. Ongwen, a duty specifically mandated to the ICC.He also noted that the Amnesty Law is a major challenge in prosecuting international crimes nationally.  However, he informed the Prosecutor that Government was committed to addressing the issue through the Transitional Justice Policy framework, wherein conditional amnesties will be provided.

Hon. Ruhindi further noted the need for victim participation and reparations, which would all be addressed with the transitional justice legal framework. Clarity was also made on Uganda’s relations with the ICC and in this regard he noted that complementarity can be undertaken at national level and hence there is need to consider reforms at international level. He also noted that need to promote universal acceptance to the Rome Statue.

On her part, Ms Fatou Bensouda in her remarks thanked the Attorney General for convening the meeting and expressed sincere gratitude to the Government of Uganda for the cooperation it has shown from the time of referral of the case of Joseph Kony in 2005, to the time of surrender of Dominic Ongwen todate.

She admitted that she at first "worried about the transfer of Ongwen to the Hague, but was convinced about Uganda’s stance on accountability". Mrs Bensouda informed the meeting that the purpose of her visit was to highlight the importance of the trial phase, the need to gather more information on the case of Ongwen considering that the case had not been active since the warrants were issued in 2005 a the ICC’s responsibility, to make sure prosecutions are effective.

She informed the Attorney General on the next steps towwards Ongwen's trial which include;

  1. Consideration of possibilities of investigating other crimes committed by Ongwen and hence prefer additional charges against him;
  2. An Application to the pre - trial chamber to have the case of Ongwen heard in January 2016;
  3. Visiting of the affected communities in the Northern Uganda;
  4. Deployment of an ICC investigative team in Uganda that will need assistance for the Ugandan counterparts.
  5. Making a specific request to share information with Uganda

In her concluding remarks, the ICC  Prosecutor noted that there is need for the Government of Uganda to assist in witness protection. She also highlighted that cooperation will be important for the successful prosecution by the ICC.


Fatou Bensouda Fact File

Mrs. Fatou Bensouda of The Gambia was elected by consensus Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court by the Assembly of States Parties. Mrs. Bensouda was sworn in on 15 June 2012. Mrs. Bensouda had previously held the position of ICC Deputy Prosecutor (Prosecutions), having been elected with an overwhelming majority by the Assembly of States Parties on 8 August 2004 and serving as such until May 2012. Prior to her work at the International Criminal Court, Mrs. Bensouda worked as Legal Adviser and Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, rising to the position of Senior Legal Advisor and Head of The Legal Advisory Unit.


 By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | February 27, 2015



Published in Latest News