Ongwen’s Lead Defense Lawyer Arrested in Uganda

Dominic Ongwen’s lead defense lawyer has been arrested. According to local media reports, Krispus Ayena Odongo was arrested last Thursday in Lira, a city in northern Uganda, for his alleged failure to pay a debt stemming from civil litigation over his 2016 parliamentary election petition.

Odongo represents Ongwen before the International Criminal Court (ICC). On Monday and Tuesday this week, there were hearings scheduled in the trial of Ongwen, but those hearings were canceled at the request of the defense. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said this on Monday, after the court held a few minutes of deliberations that were closed to the public. Lawyers representing the prosecution and victims were present during those deliberations as well as the defense team. However, Odongo was not among the defense lawyers present in court.

Odongo was also not present on Wednesday when Presiding Judge Luz del Carmen Ibanez Carranza read a summary of the Appeals Chamber’s judgment on a defense submission challenging 41 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that Ongwen has been charged with.

The last hearing Odongo was present for was on June 14. There have been six hearings since then before the defense asked for this week’s hearings to be canceled. His absence is not unusual because in the past he has been absent from hearings for a few days. However, his recent absence is noteworthy because the trial is currently in the defense phase, and he leads Ongwen’s defense.

Ongwen, a former commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. His trial at the ICC has been ongoing since December 2016.