At the opening of his trial, Dominic Ongwen, the former Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commander 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 the prosecution read the 70 counts of charges, Ongwen speaking in his native dialect Acholi, said he only admits seeing the documents containing the charges which were read to him on 16th January 2016.
//Cue in; "now Mr Ongwen...
Cue out..... Not Guilty."//
Earlier, 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 his understanding and benefit.
//Cue in: "As Mr Ongwen...
Cue out....Back in January."//
Confirmed charges against Dominic 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 21 January 2015.
The hearings will continue tomorrow, December 7 2016, with the opening statements of the Legal Representatives of the 4,107 victims participating in the case: Joseph Akwenyu Manoba and Francisco Cox, representing a first group of victims; and Paolina Massidda and Jane Adong, representing a second group.
At its request, the Defence team, led by Krispus Ayena Odongo, will make its opening statements at the beginning of the presentation of its evidence, once the Prosecution has concluded the presentation of its case.
The opening of the trial was broadcast live in six locations within Northern Uganda (Abok, Odek, Lukodi, Pajule, Coorom and Gulu town) and two locations in Kampala. ICC Registrar Herman von Hebel witnessed the opening session together with the victims community in Abok, Northern Uganda.
"I am here today to bear witness to a special day for the victims in Northern Uganda, it is the moment that they have been waiting and hoping for, for many years," he said.
Ochola's journalism career begun from Radio King 90.2 FM in Gulu around 2009, and Radio Rupiny 95.7 Fm under Vision Group in 2012. He also reported for Mighty Fire 91.5 Fm, Kitgum in 2015 before joining Wizarts Foundation in 2017.
He has been reporting for Uganda Radio Network (URN) since 2017 before being posted as Bureau Chief Kitgum, and latr Gulu between 2018 - 2021. Currently, he reports from Parliament.