Judge Declines Defense Request to Change June Hearings Dates of Ongwen Trial

The Single Judge of Trial Chamber IX has declined a request made by the defense of Dominic Ongwen to change the schedule of hearings in June in order to accommodate Ongwen’s mental health needs.

Judge Bertram Schmitt said in a May 15 decision that Trial Chamber IX made changes to the June schedule of hearings keeping in mind Ongwen’s mental health needs. He said there were several breaks in between hearings in June that would allow Ongwen time to rest.

“The decision of the Chamber to schedule five additional hearing days in June was based on the necessity to compensate for six hearing days which had to be cancelled in May due to unforeseen and urgent personal circumstances within the Chamber, this also with a view to ensuring that the trial proceedings advance expeditiously,” said Judge Schmitt.

Previously, hearings were scheduled for May 2-3, May 6-7, May 9-10 and then May 20. The chamber cancelled the hearings between May 2 and May 10. Trial Chamber IX then rescheduled those hearings to June 13-14, June 17-18 and June 20. The cancellation and rescheduling of the hearings were done via email from Trial Chamber IX, according to Judge Schmitt’s May 15 decision.

Since that decision it is apparent the schedule of Ongwen’s trial has changed again. This week there was only one hearing scheduled, that is on Monday, May 20. However, hearings were also held on Tuesday and Thursday. Further hearings are scheduled next week Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. It is likely these changes were communicated to the different lawyers via email from Trial Chamber IX.

Ongwen has been on trial since December 2016. He is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he allegedly committed in northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts. The prosecution and victims have presented their cases, and the trial is currently in the defense phase.

In a May 7 submission, Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, asked the chamber to reconsider the change in the June schedule, arguing it would cause Ongwen to “suffer undue stress and adverse mental health effects.” He also said the changed schedule would not give Ongwen enough time to instruct his lawyers.

Judge Schmitt said the defense request did not give “any concrete information” about how the new schedule would affect Ongwen negatively.

“More importantly, the Request disregards in this respect that while hearings are indeed scheduled for every week in June, only one of these weeks will encompass four hearing days and that the Chamber will never sit more than two days in a row,” he said.

Judge Schmitt noted that there would be only one hearing in May, and therefore Ongwen would have enough time to consult his lawyers ahead of the June hearings.

The prosecution and lawyers for victims in the trial all opposed the defense request. Joseph Akwenyu Manoba and Francisco Cox, who represent one group of victims, said the request was “speculative.” They also said victims were “greatly concerned” at the slow pace the trial had taken since the defense began presenting their case in September last year.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a May 14 submission the defense asserted that the five days added for hearings in June would be detrimental to Ongwen’s health and “could trigger the incidents like the one [that] occurred on 7 January 2019.” She said this argument was “unsupported by any evidence.”

“There is no link between the hearings and the Incident. There was not a single hearing scheduled between 30 November 2018 and 7 January 2019,” said Bensouda. She did not given any details about the incident, and the defense May 7 request had sections redacted in the public version posted on the ICC website.