ICC judges last week sent cases arising from investigations in Uganda and Mali to trial, confirming charges against suspected Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen and alleged Islamist Ahmad al-Faqi. Ongwen faces a record number of charges in an ICC trial, while al-Faqi is set to become the first suspect to plead guilty at The Hague-based Court.
LRA commander Ongwen facing record number of ICC charges
In their decision to send Ongwen to trial for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, judges of Pre-trial Chamber II confirmed all 70 charges alleged to have been committed in Northern Uganda, including attacks against civilian population, murder and attempted murder, torture, cruel treatment, enslavement, pillaging, destruction of property, persecution and other inhumane acts.
The court also confirmed the charges related to sexual and gender based crimes as well as the enlisting and use of child soldiers. Ongwen will become the first person before the ICC to face charges of forced marriage, and also the first person to stand trial for forced pregnancy under international criminal law. Judges deemed the Court to have jurisdiction over forced marriage as a crime separate from sexual slavery.
Joyce Freda Apio, transitional justice expert and practitioner, based in Ugandan capital, Kampala
“The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmation of charges against Ongwen is another giant leap for accountability of atrocious crimes committed against thousands of people in Northern Uganda.
“I am more than confident that the ICC will deliver justice in Ongwen’s case. On the issue of government troops/soldiers, the Rome Statute is very clear: anyone, and I mean anyone, accused of perpetrating war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide must account for their actions and if found guilty faces a punishment as prescribed by the Court. Government troops/soldiers are not exceptional to this rule. They must face trial, and the state must cooperate with the ICC, like it has done in Ongwen’s case. Shielding soldiers from accountability perpetuates immunity by the state.
“With the ICC moving to the full trial of Ongwen’s case, I urge the ICC to consider in situ hearing in northern Uganda, now that elections are over. This would bring justice closer to the people, against whom the prosecuted crimes were committed.”
Al-Faqi to face trial in first ICC case involving destruction of cultural heritage
In the second case to be sent to trial last week, Pre-Trial Chamber I unanimously confirmed one war crime charge against alleged Tuareg Islamic extremist Ahmad al-Faqi for intentionally directing attacks against ten buildings dedicated to religion in Timbuktu, Mali. Judges noted that it was one of the quickest confirmation of charges in the ICC’s history and that al-Faqi did not contest the charge.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in a statement following the al-Faqi decision said
“This is the first time that a suspect has expressed his intention to plead guilty to criminal conduct for which he is being prosecuted by my Office; a serious crime for which we had gathered overwhelming evidence. Such an admission of guilt, provided for in article 65 of the Rome Statute, will be a milestone in the history of the ICC.”
To reach their decision, the judges also reviewed the statements of at least six witnesses, satellite imagery of the buildings/structures before and after their complete or partial destruction, documents originating from Malian authorities, media reports, expert analyses, and statements and reports emanating from international organizations including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“It’s very important for me to be here at the International Criminal Court today [when the judges heard the accusations against the Malian Islamist, Al Mahdi al Faqi] because somewhere barriers have been overturned. In some way those monuments in Timbuktu [that he is accused of destroying] belong to me too. I’m a practicing Muslim. I believe that by attacking those monuments, they were attacking part of the Muslim religion. Those monuments were a reference point for an entire population, an entire nation and even the world because there are people who come from everywhere to pray at those mausoleums.”
While dates for the opening of the trials have yet to be set, the ICC has set the stage for what may prove to be another year of ‘firsts’ as it looks to develop its ability to respond to demands for accountability in a timely and effective manner.
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