Victim's seek legal representation in the Prosecutor vs Dominic Ongwen case

The confirmation of charges hearing in the case of The Prosecutor v. Dominic Ongwen  opened on 21 January 2015 before Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC).The purpose of the charges hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Dominic Ongwen committed crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed on or about 20 May 2004 at the Lukodi IDP Camp in the Gulu District.

Dominic Ongwen was the alleged Brigade Commander of the Sinia Brigade of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), whose rebel fighter’s wreaked havoc in Northern Uganda for nearly two decades. On 8 July 2015, the ICC Judges issues an arrest warrant against Dominic Ongwen for three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes. Subsequently, Dominic Ongwen was surrendered to the ICC Detention Center on 21 January 2015.

Right of victims to participate in the trial

Thousands of Ugandans were victims of murder, enslavement, serious bodily injury and pillaging as a result of the LRA led attacks. Victims are free to choose a legal representative to help them participate in the hearing of the case. If the victims lack the necessary means to pay for a common legal representative chosen by the Court, they may receive assistance from the Registry, including, as appropriate, financial assistance.

Close to 1400 Ugandan victims’ submitted powers of attorney requesting that they be represented by Mr. Joseph Manoba, a Ugandan lawyer, and Mr. Francisco Cox, a Chilean lawyer. The two lawyers have been carrying out their legal representation of victims on an entirely pro-bono basis. This is because they were chosen by the victims as opposed to the Court, hence the victims do not qualify for financial assistance by the Court.

The Kenyan Section of the International Commission Jurists (ICJ Kenya) has partnered with the legal Representatives for the victims to facilitate their representation of the victims in the confirmation of charges hearing. ICJ Kenya supports accountability mechanisms for international crimes both at the domestic and regional level and strives to promote accountability for grave crimes.

What next for the victims?

The confirmation of hearing is not a trial; it is a pre-trial hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to commit the case for trial before a trial chamber. The legal representatives for the victims will ensure meaningful and effective participation of victims in the case .After hearing the submissions from the prosecution, defence and legal representatives for the victims, The ICC judges will either confirm or drop the charges against Dominic Ongwen. If the charges are confirmed against Ongwen, the victims will be prepared by their lawyers for participation at the trial.

Edigah Kavulavu, is a Program Officer under the International Cooperation Program.