Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen this week made his first appearance before ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II following his surrender earlier this month.
Single Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova ensured that the suspect understood the charges against him – three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes allegedly committed in Uganda in 2004.
Ongwen confirmed he was a senior member of LRA, noting that he been abducted by the group at age 14. A confirmation of charges hearing to decide whether to send the case to trial will take place on 24 August 2015.
Ongwen’s appearance was welcomed by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, while No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) welcomed called for greater efforts to enforce other outstanding arrest warrants. The African Youth Initiative Network’s Victor Ochen told the Associated Press that Ongwen’s previous status as a child soldier shouldn’t overshadow his role as a commander for the LRA.
The Coalition’s Stephen Lamony told the Independent (Uganda) that the ICC needs to conduct outreach in Uganda to ensure that affected communities understand the Ongwen proceedings. A report on local perspectives concerning the Ongwen case was published by the Refugee Law Center, and the International Center for Transitional Justice examined Uganda’s judicial system and considered whether it is capable of prosecuting serious crimes.The Ugandan government said it will fully cooperate with the case.
A Ugandan Bishop said that he is willing to defend Dominic Ongwen at ICC. An Independent (Uganda) columnist argued that it is in the best interests of the ICC, victims and Ugandans to hold Ongwen’s trial proceedings in Uganda, while a Daily Monitor columnist argued that Ongwen should have been given amnesty in order to encourage other LRA fighters to give up.
Researcher Valerie Arnoud argued that the Dominic Ongwen case highlights the complex issues the ICC faces.
Central African Republic
A UN humanitarian official called on the world to wake up to the dire situation in the CAR. The country’s youth and sport minister was kidnapped in Bangui, while eight abducted local officials were freed. The UN Security Council renewed sanctions for individuals in the CAR. Meanwhile, the CAR governmentrejected a ceasefire deal with the anti-Balaka forces and Seleka rebels.
In a report released by the ICC Registry, post-election violence victims expressed fears that the Kenya cases would collapse. A Jubilee senator urged the opposition to support a move to withdraw from the ICC and the Standard reported that Jubilee legislators from North Rift are re-igniting the debate over Kenya’s ICC membership. Members of the UN Human Rights Council criticized Kenya’s lack of cooperation with the ICC. Kenya’s Witness Protection Agency denied that missing ICC witness Meshack Yebei was under its protection. A Capital FM News columnist argued that the US position on the ICC relative to the Israel-Palestine conflict also applies to peace building and reconciliation in Kenya.
Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto was excused from attending ICC proceedings this week to attend to government affairs while Kenyatta attends the AU summit in Ethiopia. A witness testified that most of the witnesses that testified against Ruto and broadcaster Joshua Sang were members of the political party Ruto campaigned against in 2007. A witness in the case also denied providing the ICC with evidence in the form of recording.
Ruto’s counsel challenged a witness’s testimony about a fundraiser where Ruto allegedly called for the eviction and killing of ethnic Kikuyus. Some of Ruto’s close political allies want Raila Odinga to testify at his trial. Kenya’s foreign minister told the AU that the Ruto trial is a threat to peace and security, and Jubilee politicians resolved to pressure the ICC to drop the case against Ruto. Law professor and former OTP official Alex Whiting told Capital News FM that the bid of Ruto and Sang to have their charges dismissed on the basis of a lack of evidence is unlikely to succeed.
Post-election violence victims asked the ICC prosecutor if she would re-charge Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. A Daily Nation columnist argued that the release of the prosecution’s evidence against Kenyatta was an abuse of discretion. Through his lawyer, Kenyatta said that the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights doctored its report on the post-election violence to spare Raila Odinga from prosecution.
The African Union’s (AU) executive council reportedly approved a draft resolution demanding the UN Security Council cancel its resolution referring Darfur to the ICC.
Air force attacks and militia raids continue in Central Darfur. Darfur rebel groups accused government-aligned militias of launching new attacks in eastern Darfur. Two UN peacekeeper pilots were kidnapped in Darfur. Medecins sans Frontieres said that it is stopping activities in Darfur because of government interference.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The Congolese government announced that it began operations against the FDLR rebels.
Amnesty International (AI) called for targeted sanctions and accountability to end rampant war crimes in Libya. The International Crisis Group told The Guardian that a military solution is unlikely to solve Libya’s crisis, and Lawyers for Justice in Libya expressed concern at the lack of accountability measures for human rights violations being discussed at the Geneva talks between Libya’s rival militias. Meanwhile, NPWJ co-organized a workshop on the contributions of the ICC to human rights and democratic reforms in Libya.
A suicide attack allegedly carried out by a pro-government militia in northern Mali killed at least five people. UN peacekeepers killed three people near Gao when they used live ammunition to disperse protesters. A senior Malian military official survived an assassination attempt in Bamako, and at least two soldiers were killed in an ambush in northern Mali. The AU condemned the ongoing violence in the country and urged all parties not to abandon peace talks.
Ivoire Justice interviewed Simone Gbagbo’s legal counsel (in French). The Ivorian press speculated that issues between the government and the ICC could become contentious in 2015 (in French).
The Comoros asked the ICC to review the prosecutor’s decision not to open an investigation into the Mavi Marmara incident. Turkish charity group Humanitarian Aid Foundation also appealed the prosecutor’s ruling.
The Boko Haram attacked the strategically important city of Maiduguri as US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Nigeria’s president to discuss US support for the fight against the group. AI said that the attack could cause a disastrous humanitarian crisis. AI also reported that the Nigerian military was warned about the attacks on Baga and Monguno but failed to take adequate action. The AU is expected to soon grant authorization for a regional military force to combat the insurgent group, while Nigeria’s attorney general said that the government will prosecute the Boko Haram for using children as suicide bombers.
The Nigerian Coalition for the ICC welcomed the ICC prosecutor’s statements condemning the Boko Haram attacks and called on any investigations to also look at alleged government crimes. The Northern Coalition for Democracy and Justice called on the United States to help facilitate Nigerian General Muhammadu Buhari’s prosecution before the ICC for his alleged role in post-election violence in 2011. AI published a factsheet on the Boko Haram.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) called on Ukraine to join the ICC in light of renewed violence in the country’s east. Ukraine’s president said that he will refer the shelling of Mariupol and other incidents to the ICC, and Ukrainian lawmakers have begun gathering support to ask the Court to investigate. The Center for Civil Liberties told RFERL that it is archiving YouTube videos that allegedly show war crimes in eastern Ukraine and calling for the country to join the ICC.
Israel launched a public relations campaign against the ICC’s preliminary examination in Palestine, arguing that Palestine is not a state and so cannot accept the Court’s jurisdiction. European members of Parliamentarians for Global Action rejected Israel’s call for Western states to stop funding the ICC, and many leading backers of the ICC, including the UK, Germany and France, affirmed that they will ignore Israel’s defunding plea. The French Coalition for the ICC called on the French government to continue its funding of the Court and promote the universality of the Rome Statute.
An Israeli human rights group criticized Israeli policy during the 2014 Gaza conflict, alleging that the government targeted homes and killed hundreds of civilians. HRW said the decision to open a preliminary examination “is a potential first step toward reducing the impunity in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has left thousands of victims without justice.”
Canada’s foreign minister told the Jerusalem Post that Palestine’s move to the ICC is an attempt to tie Israel’s hands behind its back. The UN human rights chief criticized both the Palestinian and Israeli governments for failing to adequately investigate human rights abuses.
The American NGO Coalition for the ICC examined and accepted the ICC prosecutor’s reasons for Palestine’s eligibility to accede to the Rome Statute. Israel, Canada and the United States told the UN that they do not consider Palestine to be a state capable of joining the ICC. Writing for in the Globe and Mail, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN criticized the Canadian government for its opposition to Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute.
Two Australian law professors argued that Australia should begin thinking about how to react to the ICC’s involvement in Palestine, including helping the Palestinian government to implement the Rome Statute into its own laws. The EU’s Delegation for Relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council said that it welcomes Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute of the ICC.
Campaign for Global Justice
A Star (Malaysia) columnist called for Malaysia to join the ICC, pointing to the country’s inability to do much about the shoot-down of flight MH17 in Ukraine.
Members of the UN Human Rights Council criticized Turkey for not joining the ICC.
What else is happening?
FIDH called on the AU to increase cooperation with the ICC. The AU fast-tracked the ratification of the protocol expanding the African Court to include criminal jurisdiction for international crimes. Kenyapushed for its speedy ratification and was the first to sign it. Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to give an address at the summit on Kenya’s push for a complete overhaul of the Rome Statute. On the withdrawal of the ICC charges against Kenyatta last December, outgoing AU chairperson and President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz said “[t]he victory for Kenyatta is victory for all Africa.”
Human Rights Watch’s annual report details a ‘turbulent’ year in human rights, including deteriorating records in Sudan and Libya. Citizens for Global Solutions published a study and proposal for limiting the use of the UNSC veto for resolutions dealing with mass atrocities. The Star (Canada) interviewedICC deputy prosecutor James Stewart on the challenges of international justice. North Korea told the UN to drop its call for the country to be referred to the ICC after a North Korean defector retracted part of his testimony to a UN commission.
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