ICC: Ongwen will appear before Bulgarian judge

According to a statement released by ICC yesterday, Ongwen will appear before Bulgarian judge Ekaterina Trendafilova at 14:00 (The Hague local time).

” During the initial appearance hearing, the single Judge will verify the identity of the suspect and the language in which he is able to follow the proceedings. He will be informed of the charges against him,” the statement read in part.

Dominic Ongwen being received by Col .Michael Kabango in CARDominic Ongwen being received by Col .Michael Kabango in CAR

Ongwen is charged with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the actrocities committed by the LRA during its protracted insurgency in northern Uganda.

After Ongwen’s appearance, the Pre-Trial Chamber II will either confirm charges against him and automatically committ him for trial before a Trial Chamber, or set him free.

The Pre-Trial Chamber at ICC is divided into two and is composed of five judges – Ekaterina, Christine Van den Wyngaert (Belgium), Cuno Tarfusser(Italy), Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi(Argentina) and Olga Herrera Carbuccia (Dominican Republic).

Pre-Trial Chamber I has been assigned with the situation in Libya, Cambodia and the killings that resulted from the power struggle between Ivory Coast president, Allasane Ouatarra and his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo.

Pre-Trial Chamber II is dealing with cases in Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Darfur , Mali and Central African Republic.

The Pre-Trial Chamber plays an important role in the first phase of judicial proceedings until the confirmation of charges upon which the Prosecutor intends to seek trial against the person charged.

After the initial appearance and committal of the suspect before ICC, an accused person may appeal for interim release pending trial which is periodically reviewed by the Pre-Trial Chamber.

However, although ICC set a precedent in 2009 when it unconditionally released former DRC Vice President, Jean Pierre Bemba, ahead of his trial for war crimes, it remains to be seen whether Ongwen can benefit from such a provision given the fact that he has been elusive for many years.

Meanwhile, France yesterday welcomed Ongwen’s extradition to The Hague, describing it as a “significant step in the fight against LRA and impunity.”

“France congratulates the nations of the region and all the actors involved, whose cooperation led to the January 3rd arrest and subsequent extradition of Dominic Ongwen,” Romain Nadal, Spokesperson of France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, said in a statement.

Ongwen is the lowest ranking of the five LRA commanders for whom the ICC issued arrest warrants in 2005 following a referral by the Uganda Government.

However, following the death of Vicent Otti and Raska Lukwiya, Ongwen’s imminent arraignment has left only LRA chief, Joseph Kony and Okot Odhiambo still at large.

In 1990, Ongwen, then a 10 year old primary school pupil, was abducted by the LRA, indoctrinated, before rapidly raising through its ranks.

Following his surrender to American Special Forces in Central Africa early this month, talk about his arraignment at ICC has spawned a heated debate, with some public figures like Bishop John Baptist Odama and Democratic Party president, Norbert Mao, saying that Ongwen deserves amnesty since he was simply abducted.