At the opening of his trial, former rebel commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Dominic Ongwen, has told judges at The Hague that he doesn’t understand the charges being brought against him.
Ongwen, one of the top five LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005, has also pleaded not guilty to the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He insists that the charges should be brought against the LRA and not against him as an individual and a victim of the same group, since he was abducted and conscripted. “In the name of God, I deny all on the charges in respect to the war in northern Uganda – I plead not guilty,” Ongwen said. I am one of the people the LRA committed offenses against” he added. After reading the prosecution read the 70 counts of charges, Ongwen said he only admits seeing the documents containing the charges which were read to him on January 16, 2016. Presiding judge Bertram Schmitt adjourned the opening hearing of the trial for 15 minutes to allow a private or closed session in which to further deliberate if indeed Ongwen is in sound state of mind. Ogwen’s legal team had asked for psychiatric evaluation of their client. After the 15 minutes of technical reflection, the judges ruled that Ongwen understood the charges and that the defense team did not show any concern to court that Ongwen had difficulties understanding the charges against him as an accused person. The presiding judge also said Ongwen’s decline holds no basis as all the documents containing the charges were all translated for Ongwen’s understanding and benefit. Confirmed charges against Ogwen, the former commander of the Sinia Brigade of the LRA, concern crimes allegedly committed during attacks in Pajule IDP camp in October 2003, Odek IDP camp in April 2004, Lukodi IDP camp in May 2004, and Abok IDP camps in June 2004. They also cover sexual and gender-based crimes directly and indirectly committed by Dominic Ongwen and crimes of conscription and use in hostilities of children under the age of 15 allegedly committed in northern Uganda between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005 Ongwen was abducted as a child and enlisted into the rebel ranks, rising through the hierarchy to head operations of the rebel army. He was surrendered to the ICC on 16 January 2015 pursuant to an ICC warrant of arrest and transferred to the ICC custody on January 21, 2015.