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Defence witnesses in Ongwen’s trial at ICC fear testifying over intimidation

Accused. Former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen. (PHOTO/File)

HAGUE – Mr. Krispus Ayena Odongo, the Ongwen lead defense lawyer has reported to the trial judges that some of his listed witnesses for the trial of the former LRA warlord at the International Criminal Court (ICC) are frightened as they are facing threats and intimidation.

He said this while making a submission on Tuesday 13, at the ongoing trial session in The Hague, Netherlands.

“Mr. President, the political dynamics in Africa, and in Uganda in particular … sometimes get seized by individuals, and not by the state,” Odongo told Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt while making a personal statement on his recent arrest in Lira.

Mr Ayena who preferred to conceal the identities of the perpetuators, when and the details incident, said the witnesses who he also declined to mention were intimidated through the work of some individuals in Uganda.

The lead lawyer was last month on Thursday, July 11, arrested in Lira town on allegations that he failed to pay a debt stemming from civil litigation over his 2016 parliamentary election petition court award of UGX 73 million to Minister Okello Engola.

He thanked the court for giving him time to resolve the matter.

On Tuesday, Trial Chamber IX resumed hearings in the trial of Ongwen following the ICC’s summer recess, which ran from July 19 to August 11th.

The last defense witness was Nicholas Ocirowijok who testified on July 4, before the recess.

The hearings that were supposed to run through July 16, were suspended at the request of the defence due to Odongo’s arrest in Lira.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said that Mr Ayena was given time to resolve his case in Uganda because it was not related to his conduct at the ICC.

“We have understood that this was something that had absolutely nothing to do with your conduct [at the ICC]. As you already said, since we understood, we gave you, so to speak, also time to resolve this,” Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt told Odongo on Tuesday.

“Suffice it then, Mr. President, to reiterate about the vulnerability of my person and that of our witnesses,” said Odongo. He said some of the defense’s best witnesses did not testify because of intimidation.

The presiding Judge assured Mr Ayena that court units responsible is committed to ensure all the listed defense witness testify and their safety guaranteed.

“I can assure you that the chamber will do everything to ensure the protection of witnesses,” said Judge Schmitt. He said the units of the ICC responsible for protection issues would ensure “that all the witnesses on your list will be heard.”

Ongwen is being tried on 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed as an LRA commander between July 2002 and December 2005 in northern Uganda.

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