Ayena withdrew from further representing Ongwen at the global court. The Ugandan lawyer had been Ongwen’s lead defense lawyer since his appointment in February 2015.
Dominic Ongwen. Courtesy Photo
Dominic Ongwen, one of the former top commanders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army-LRA has appointed a new defense lawyer to represent
him at The Hague-based International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Ogwen picked Charles Achaleke Taku, a Cameroonian
lawyer early this month in what seemed a fallout with his former Ugandan lead defense lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo.
Ayena withdrew from further representing Ongwen at the global court. The Ugandan lawyer had been Ongwen’s lead
defense lawyer since his appointment in February 2015. However, on June 1, 2022, Ayena requested
the Appeals Chamber to grant him leave to withdraw as Counsel for Ongwen in the proceedings before the Trial Chamber IX.
He was later relieved from his role in a decision communicated by the Presiding
Judge Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza dated June 7. The judge directed the registry
to take all necessary steps to facilitate the prompt appointment of Charles
Achaleke Taku as the new defense Counsel for Ongwen.
“In light of the foregoing, the
Appeals Chamber finds it appropriate to grant the Request subject to the
Registry taking the necessary steps regarding the prompt appointment of Mr. Taku
as the new defense Counsel for Mr. Ongwen in accordance with rules 20 to 22 of
the Rules,” Justice Carranza’s decision reads in Part.
Ayena’s reasons for withdrawal
from the case weren’t publicly shared by the court. However. Ongwen’s new
defense lawyer in a notification to the appeals chamber on June 1, highlighted Justice Carranza's decision and stated that the communication between Ayena and Ongwen had
completely “broken down”.
Speaking to Ugandan Journalists
at a briefing at The Hague in the Netherlands on Wednesday, Taku, said that Ongwen
told him that his communication with Ayena had broken down and wished not to
continue having him as a defense counsel.
“When there is that breakdown in
communication, it becomes a matter of serious concern, and that’s what Ongwen
told us,” he said. Taku says Ayena has a right to
challenge the decision if it’s indeed true that there was a communication gap between him
The changes come at the time the
appeals Chamber is expected to deliver its judgment on the appeal in which, Ongwen is challenging his sentence of 25 years in
prison. In May 2021, ICC found Ongwen guilty of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Northern Uganda between 1 July 2002 and 31 December 2005.
His defense lawyers however later
appealed the conviction. Between February 14-18, 2022, the Appeals Chamber
of the ICC held hearings into the appeal lodged by Ongwen’s defense lawyers who
raised 90 grounds consisting of alleged legal, factual and procedural
errors relating to the conviction.
The Deputy Prosecutor, Mame
Mandiaye Niang Wednesday, said that the judgment for Ongwen’s appeal is expected
in December this year. Niang noted that as a prosecution,
they are confident that the earlier conviction by the court won’t be
“We are pretty confident with the
outcome of the case, but we have to wait for December,” He said.
Taku who was formally appointed
as Ongwen’s defense lawyer on June 6 this year has worked at the ICC for 23
years. He was first appointed as the
lead defense counsel at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for
Rwanda (UNICTR) in October 1999 and later as lead defense counsel at the
Special Court for Sierra Leone in July 2005.
Taku has served also served and
represented clients at the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva and
the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in Arusha Tanzania.
Bureau Chief, West Acholi