The confirmation of charges hearings in the trial of Dominic Ongwen will be held in The Hague at the premises of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC Presidency decided that the potential risks of holding the hearings in Uganda outweigh the potential benefits of an in situ hearing.
In September 2010, Pre-Trial Chamber II recommended to the ICC Presidency that holding Ongwen’s confirmation of charges hearing in Uganda would be desirable and in the interests of justice, and would improve the perception of the ICC in Africa.
Ongwen, a former leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, has been arrested on three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, enslavement, 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). On September 18, 2015, the prosecutor announced that she will expand the charges to include 67 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The alleged crimes were committed in 2004 during attacks on camps for internally displaced persons in northern Uganda.
Victims and members of Ugandan civil society welcomed the opportunity to have hearings conducted closer to victims and affected communities, although they also noted serious challenges posed by hearings in Uganda. In initial submissions to the pre-trial chamber, the prosecution and defense also supported the possibility of holding the confirmation of charges hearings in Uganda.
The hearings are scheduled to begin on January 21, 2016, in the midst of parliamentary and presidential elections in Uganda. This creates the risk of politicizing the ICC trial as well as increasing political tensions in Uganda. The government of Uganda considers that these factors make the risks of holding the trial there bigger than the potential benefits, the ICC Registry said. According to the Registry, the government of Uganda suggested delaying the start of the hearings until domestic elections have ended. The Registry shared these concerns.
The Registry also submitted that the cost of holding the trial in Uganda would be considerable—between €312,000 and €415,000—and a significant drain on resources during the court’s move to its permanent premises at the end of 2015.
The ICC Presidency noted that there were a number of benefits to holding the confirmation of charges hearings in Uganda. These included bringing the proceedings closer to affected communities and the potential to contribute to a better perception of the ICC.
However, the Presidency found that the potential benefits of holding the hearings in Uganda in January 2016 are outweighed by the significant risks. The judges noted the significant costs of moving the proceedings. In addition, the potential for the political tensions associated with elections to adversely impact the ICC was a particular concern of the Presidency.
Therefore, the confirmation of charges hearings scheduled for January 2016 will be held at the seat of the court in The Hague.