Ongwen Fails to Show Up for Start of Trial; is Present Later in the Day

Thursday’s hearing of the trial of Dominic Ongwen at the International Criminal Court (ICC) began late because Ongwen declined to appear in court.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the chamber decided to postpone Thursday’s hearing until the mid-morning session “so that the defense has enough time to see if their client will appear in court.”

A single day’s trial hearing at the ICC is normally made up of three sessions of one and a half hour each. The chamber’s decision meant that there was no hearing during the first session.

Judge Schmitt said this postponement was “unfortunate,” but he asked that not too much is made of it. The judge did not say in open court why Ongwen did not appear at the start of the hearing.

When the court resumed at the mid-morning session, Ongwen was present. The hearing first began in private session before resuming in open court after about 20 minutes. Defense lawyer Thomas Obhof continued cross-examining Witness P-205, a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who at one time served in the same brigade as Ongwen, the Sinia brigade.

Ongwen is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges against him include attacks between 2003 and 2004 on the Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. He is also charged with forcibly marrying seven women, who were girls at the time, and committing sexual crimes against them.

On Thursday, Obhof asked Witness P-205 about a river in northern Uganda, the Aswa, and how LRA fighters crossed it in April, during the rainy season, when the river was swollen. Obhof questioned the witness about how well Ongwen was able to walk after suffering a leg injury in late 2002. He also asked Witness P-205 about the distance between the village of Omel and Lukodi.

With each area of cross-examination, Obhof would ask introductory questions before having to ask to go into private session. This is when the public cannot hear anything that is said in the courtroom. Those in the public gallery can still see the judges and lawyers in the courtroom, but they cannot see Witness P-205 because he is testifying under in-court protective measures to conceal his identify from the public.

Witness P-205 will continue to testify on Friday.