United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the transfer to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague of senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Commander Dominic Ongwen as well as his surrender earlier this month in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The ICC has escorted Ongwen – against whom the Court back in 2005 issued an arrest warrant for war crimes committed in Uganda – to its detention centre in the Netherlands. On arrival he will receive a medical visit and will appear, as soon as possible, before the judges in the presence of a defence lawyer. The date of the initial appearance hearing is yet to be announced.
In a statement Ban said Ongwen’s transfer to the ICC marks an “important milestone in accountability” as the first LRA commander to be brought before the Court.
“It is a step forward in efforts to bring justice to the thousands of victims of LRA violence in Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and CAR over the past 28 years,” the UN chief said.
The Secretary-General welcomed co-operation between the governments of the CAR, Uganda, the United States, Belgium and the Netherlands and the support provided by the UN Multi-dimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA), the African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF) and the ICC in facilitating the expeditious transfer of Ongwen to The Hague.
Ban also paid tribute to the efforts of the AU-RTF and urged all troop-contributing countries of the region to remain committed to ending the threat posed by the LRA and bringing to justice its leader Joseph Kony. He called on the LRA to immediately disarm.
Ongwen, who was transferred to ICC custody on January 17, was the alleged Commander of the LRA’s Sinia Brigade. On July 8, 2005, ICC Judges issued an arrest warrant against him for three counts of crimes against humanity (murder; enslavement; inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering) and four counts of war crimes (murder; cruel treatment of civilians; intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population; pillaging) allegedly committed in 2004 within the context of the situation in Uganda.
He is part of a case also filed against Kony, Vincent Otti and Okot Odhiambo.
During the initial appearance hearing, the judges of Pre-Trial Chamber II will verify the identity of the suspect and the language in which he is able to follow the proceedings. Ongwen will be informed of the charges against him. The judges will also schedule a date for the opening of the confirmation of charges hearing, a preliminary step to decide whether the case will be referred to a trial or not.
In an ICC statement, the President of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Court’s founding Rome Statute, Minister Sidiki Kab, said Ongwen’s transfer to the custody of the Court constituted an important success for the Rome Statute system.
“The affected communities will have the opportunity to see international justice address the horrific violence that took place in Uganda. I join the Court in its appreciation to all those States and organisations whose co-operation made possible the successful implementation of the Court’s decisions,” he said.