Convicted former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen is appealing the February 4 ruling of the International Criminal Court, which found him guilty of 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“It was a bad judgement, we are appealing,” said Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead defence lawyer, adding that there are several grounds on which to challenge his client’s conviction, which if commuted, could see him jailed for up to 30 years.
The four grounds are: That the Court did not evaluate evidence of the defence — including proof that Ongwen was “a prisoner” in an LRA camp when the attack at Pajule took place; that the crimes related to forced marriage could not have taken place since there was no “traditional or any other type of marriage in the bush.”
Mr Odongo also argues that Ongwen is a victim, abducted in 1988 and forcibly conscripted into the LRA ranks as a nine-year-old child. But, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda argued that the crimes the ex-LRA commander was tried for are those committed as an adult between 2002 and 2005.
In the appeal, the defence also intends to challenge the evidence given by Ongwen’s wives.
“In common law, a spouse is not a compelling witness against their partner. But in this trial it happened, and we want to challenge that,” Mr Odongo said.
Ongwen’s lawyers also argue that he is only barely literate in his mother-tongue Acholi, and the entire 1,077-page judgement should be translated into the language he understands.
“Ongwen can only fully and meaningfully participate in his appeal with an Acholi translation of the judgment because he is a special needs person with mental disabilities, and requires adequate time and resources to communicate with and instruct his Counsel,” the application filed on February 8 reads.
The ICC confirmed on February 10, that Ongwen’s defence has requested the Appeals Chamber to suspend the date of its notification of appeal until a full Acholi translation of the judgement is provided, instead of 30 days after the notification of the judgement.
“The decision on whether or not to grant this request is entirely up to the ICC judges and we can’t comment at this stage. We will publish the decision from the judges as soon as it is issued,” said Fadi El Abdallah, ICC spokesperson, in an e-mail.