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Thursday, 04 February 2016 17:59

Dominic Ongwen ICC Pre-Trial: FAQ


Dominic Ongwen is a former second-in-command to Joseph Kony, within the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who was surrendered to the Seleka rebels at the Central African Republic –South Sudan border in January 2015.  He is now in custody of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Who is Dominic Ongwen?

Mr. Ongwen is an adult Ugandan allegedly born in 1975 in Amuru District, in northern Uganda.  He admits he is a former commander of the LRA and that he was abducted around the age of 14 years. 


What crimes is Dominic Ongwen accused of committing? 

Mr. Ongwen is accused of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. 

Specifically, there are 70 charges against Dominic Ongwen – 34 crimes against humanity and 36 war crimes, as follows:;

  • 10 charges concern crimes committed in the Pajule IDP camp;
  • 13 charges concern crimes in the Odek IDP camp;
  • 13 charges concern crimes in the Lukodi IDP camp;
  • 13 charges concern crimes related to a 2004 attack on the Abok IDP camp;
  • 8 charges concern sexual and gender based crimes; 
  • 2 charges concern crimes of conscription and use of children under the age of 15 to participate in hostilities; and 
  • 11 other charges are confidential and have not been disclosed for the security of witnesses.


What are war crimes and crimes against humanity?

The Rome Statute provides for the laws under which Dominic Ongwen is being charged; these are but are not limited to;

Crimes against humanity include, but are not limited to:

  • Murder;
  • Extermination;
  • Enslavement;
  • Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
  • Torture;
  • Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
  • Enforced disappearance of persons; and
  • The crime of apartheid

These crimes MUST have been committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.

War crimes are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, 

which include but are not limited to:

  • Wilful killing  of civilians; 
  • Taking of hostages;
  • Extensive destruction of property;
  • Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; and 
  • Torture or inhumane treatment. 

War crimes also include other serious violations of laws and customs, within the framework of international law which entail acts committed during international and non-international armed conflicts. Such war crimes specifically include;

  • Intentional attacks against the civilian population not taking direct part in the hostilities;
  • Attacking or bombarding  by whatever means, tons, villages, dwellings or buildings undefended and which are not military objects;
  • Killing or wounding treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;
  • Committing rape, sexual slavery,  enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy; and
  • Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities. 

*Please note that the list above is not exhaustive but illustrative.


When and where were the alleged crimes committed? 

The charges against Mr. Ongwen are for crimes committed in Northern Uganda, from 2002, specifically in the Districts of Lira, Apac, Pader, Gulu, Kitgum, Soroti, Katakwi and Kaberamaido.  


Which court will try Dominic Ongwen?

The ICC will try Mr. Ongwen. The Court is a permanent institution that has the power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern and it is complementary to national criminal jurisdictions.

The ICC has the power to try crimes committed only after it was established, or crimes committed after 1st July 2002.   He was one of the 5 persons indicted by the ICC who were to be tried once captured.  Of the Five, three of them; Vincent Otti (formerly Second in Command of the LRA), Raska Lukwiya, and Okot Odhiambo have been confirmed dead. Only Joseph Kony remains at large.


When did the trial against Mr. Ongwen start? 

Mr. Ongwen is the first LRA member to appear before the ICC. While some preliminary hearings have been held, Mr. Ongwen’s trial has not yet begun. In fact, the ICC had a hearing to confirm charges made against him from 21st January 2016 to 27th January 2016.


What does Confirmation of Charges mean?

According to the Article 61(1) of Rome Statute, the Pre- Trial Chamber must hold, holds a hearing to confirm the charges on which the prosecution intends to seek trial.

In other words, confirmation of charges is a process to determine whether or not Mr. Ongwen has a case to answer.  After this determination is made, he can be released if there is no case or he can be further detained for trial, if there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe he committed any one of the counts alleged.


When will the trial begin?

The trial will only begin if the Judges in the Pre-Trial Chamber decide that Mr.Ongwen has a case to answer before the ICC. Once the ICC has made public the confirmation of charges decision, a date will be set for full trial. This will be determined within 60 days of 27th January 2016.


Will the trial be open to the public? 

Yes, in normal circumstances. For members of the public who cannot be in the ICC courtroom in the Hague, Netherlands, because of limited space, alternative viewing arrangements will have been organised outside the courtroom.  Weekly updates as well as video footage of public trials (with a 30 minute delay) are available at the ICC website:


Does Dominic Ongwen have a lawyer?

Yes, he has Mr. Krispus Odongo Ayena, a Ugandan Lawyer, to lead his defence team and has also been represented by duty counsel in the pre-trial hearings.  The defence team consists of four members, including legal assistants.  


Who makes up the prosecution?

The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) is one of the four organs of the ICC and is headed by Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor, who took office on 15 June 2012. 

The Office Investigates and Prosecutes genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by nationals of a State Party or on the territory of a State Party on or after 1 July 2002, the date of entry into force of the Rome Statute. This is the team responsible for proving Ongwen’s guilt.


What are the fair-trial rights of the accused?

Dominic Ongwen has the same as the rights of any other accused, guaranteed by Article 66 and 67 of the Rome Statute.  These include and are not limited to the following:

  • The presumption of innocence, until proven guilty;
  • The right to be informed about his case in the language he fully understands and speaks;
  • The right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his or her defence;
  • The right to be tried without undue delay;
  • The right to be present  in person at his or her trial;
  • The right to be afforded facilities to examine witnesses and to obtain the attendance of other witnesses before the court;
  • The right to have an interpreter without any cost; and
  • The right not to be compelled to confess guilt and to remain silent without such silence being considered in determination of his guilt or innocence.


 By Margaret Ajok, Advisor Transitional Justice (JLOS Secretariat) | Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information

 Published: February 4, 2016

Published in Transitional Justice
Thursday, 23 October 2014 08:34

Transitional Justice




Transitional Justice (TJ) describes the mechanisms and processes adopted in the after-math of armed conflict or following authoritarian regimes. The objective of transitional justice processes is to achieve justice and reconciliation in post-conflict societies for conflict related crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights.

TJ has emerged as one of the key thematic areas for the Sector to address justice and reconciliation in the aftermath of the conflict in Northern Uganda. It aims to:

• Promote justice and accountability for past human rights violations and war crimes;
•Enhance access to justice and basic services for victims in Uganda’s conflict-affected areas,   with emphasis on the rights of vulnerable groups (women, children); and
•Contribute to strengthening the rule of law across the country, especially in areas where justice sector institutions and service delivery have been weakened by conflict.

The transitional justice process in Uganda therefore is one that seeks to be comprehensive, holistic and victim-centered. It seeks to achieve this through a consultative and participatory process involving victims, war affected communities, civil society organizations, cultural and religious leaders, local government and other stakeholders.



In 2008, the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) established the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), a special policy-making entity to develop a national policy and law on transitional justice for Uganda. The national policy is intended to give effect to the commitments made in the Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation (Annexure to the Juba Peace Agreement), which calls for the promotion of formal and informal accountability mechanisms to address the crimes committed during the twenty-year long conflict. A number of specialized Sub-Committees were established within the TJWG to undertake research in specific areas and to inform the development of the national Transitional Justice Policy. The Sub-Committees are grouped according to the following areas: formal justice; traditional justice; truth-seeking; and integrated systems (developing an integrated approach to justice & accountability).


National Transitional Justice Policy

The National Transitional Justice Policy will be developed according to provisions in the Juba Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation (2007). Unique features of the Agreement include: an emphasis on victims’ rights and participation, special attention to the situation of women and children who were affected by conflict, and the promotion of a holistic approach to justice, highlighting a complementary and harmonized approach to justice through the adoption of both formal and informal mechanisms.

The policy will therefore address issues of justice and reconciliation through a number of methods, including: criminal justice processes, truth-telling, traditional justice mechanisms, reparations, and social reintegration of conflict affected communities, including amnesty reporters and victims of serious violations.


Transitional Justice: Looking forward

Transitional Justice features as a priority area within the JLOS 4th Strategic Development Plan. The SDP is a 3-4 year plan guiding the work of the Sector to achieve certain objectives, including: strengthening the rule of law, access to justice and human rights promotion and accountability. JLOS is in the process of supporting a national dialogue on transitional justice and strengthening the capacity of the entire justice system (both formal and informal) in Northern Uganda with particular sensitivity to the needs of women and children.

Overall objective of TJ in SIP III: To develop and implement a comprehensive transitional justice policy and legal framework covering formal justice, traditional justice mechanisms, truth telling, reparations, as well as reconciliation and reintegration.



Transitional Justice Document Centre

Published in Priority Focus Areas


KAMPALA -- The Sector has developed a draft national policy on transitional justice which is an affirmation of Government of Uganda’s (GoU) commitment to national reconciliation, peace and justice. It reflects the core objectives of the Government of Uganda of ending impunity and promoting justice and reconciliation as a necessary precursor to sustainable development.

As part of its transitional justice initiatives, the Justice, Law and Order Sector has produced a documentary film that highlights community feedback and views on the transitional justice process in Uganda exploring themes such as amnesty, reparations, prosecutions/investigations, traditional justice mechanisms and children born in captivity.

This film premiered on May 21 2013 during the consensus building workshop to discuss the draft national transitional justice policy held at Imperial Royale Hotel, Kampala Uganda.


You can also watch the video, titled "Voices of the People: A Community-led Transitional Justice Process in Uganda" by visiting the official JLOS YouTube Page.

By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | Published: May 22, 2013
Published in Archived News
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 00:00

Special Report:The Kwoyelo Trial Begins


GULU - July 11, 2011 marked a historical event in the Ugandan judiciary with the trial of a former LRA (Lords Resistance Army) commander, Colonel Thomas Kwoyelo who was captured by the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Forces) in 2009 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This makes Uganda, the first African Country to try nationally those alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, all crimes of international concern and the first country complementing the works of the International Criminal Court (ICC). A number of events took place before the actual presentation of the accused, Colonel Thomas Kwoyelo in court for plea taking at 12:00pm.

Published in Archived News

In 2008, the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) established the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), a special policy making entity to develop a national policy and law on transitional justice for Uganda.The national policy is intended to give effect to the commitments made in the Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation (Annexure to the Juba Peace Agreement), which calls for the promotion of formal and informal accountability mechanisms to address the crimes committed during the twenty-year long conflict.

The Agreement provides the overarching legal framework for the process of developing a transitional justice policy in Uganda. Unique features of the Agreement include: an emphasis on victims’ rights and participation, special attention to the situation of women and children who were affected by conflict, and the promotion of a holistic approach to justice, highlighting a complementary and harmonized approach to justice through the adoption of both formal and informal mechanisms to promote justice and reconciliation.

In order to achieve this, a number of specialized Sub-Committees were established within the TJWG to undertake research in specific areas, including: formal justice; traditional justice; truth-seeking; and integrated systems (developing an integrated approach to justice & accountability).

JLOS consultations in the area of formal justice were conducted in 2008 and led to the adoption of the International Criminal Court Act. The ICC Act reflects Uganda’s commitments within the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court. Namely, the ICC Act allows for the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide within national courts.

The International Crimes Division of the High Court is charged with the duty of prosecuting war crimes and other crimes of a serious nature.

In 2011, JLOS undertook national consultations in the area of traditional justice and truth-telling. The report is expected to be adopted and launched by mid-2012 and will contribute significantly to the elaboration of the national policy and law on transitional justice. The report will make recommendations on the use and role of traditional justice and truth-telling for conflict related crimes.

At present, the TJWG is taking forward a review of the Amnesty Act. Conflicts in the law have come to light in the recent case of Uganda v. Thomas Kwoyelo, HCT-00-ICD Case No.0002 of 2012, which if not addressed will continue to frustrate the pursuit of justice against key persons responsible for war crimes. Given that the Amnesty Act (2000) is due to expire in May 2012, now is an opportune moment to conduct an assessment of the current role, purpose and impact of the Act, in contrast with its intended purpose at the time of its original enactment over ten years ago.

The review is being informed by a series of consultative meetings and specialized field studies on Amnesty. The consultations capture the views of community members, religious and traditional leaders, local government, parliamentarians, academics, civil society organizations and locally-based victims groups, as well as legal experts and transitional justice specialists. A variety of views have been expressed and captured for deliberation. Key considerations for the review include:

(1) The conflict of laws between Amnesty and co-existing national laws;
(2) The conflict of laws between Amnesty and international law obligations;
(2) The role and purpose of the Amnesty Act (past and present);
(3) The effects of the Amnesty Act;
(4) Community views and experience;
(5) Gender implications/Impact on women; and
(6) Amnesty within Uganda’s national transitional justice policy.


The review process is still currently underway, yet findings from the consultations revealed a consensus that amnesty in its current form cannot be sustained because it does not cater for accountability of crimes committed, either through formal or informal processes, and it does not adequately enable reintegration of reporters.

Further, there was strong support for the adoption of additional transitional justice mechanisms to promote truth-seeking and reparations, which were seen to be capable of delivering meaningful justice to victims and war-affected communities.

In most cases, there was agreement that Amnesty has outlived its originally intended purpose of promoting the end to hostilities, however there was reluctance by some to do away with Amnesty completely, if only to give the ‘captive’ youth still in the bush an opportunity to return home.

As such, the review will need to take into consideration all of the views and concerns expressed and propose the best way forward that responds to community views, the local context and expressed need for justice and accountability, while is at the same time remaining legally sound.

 In conclusion, the future of amnesty is intimately linked to the national transitional justice process underway in Uganda. As the TJWG develops the policy on transitional justice, amnesty will be coupled with other mechanisms that seek to promote justice, accountability and reconciliation that is context-relevant and responsive to victims’ rights and interests.

As such, the consultative process for developing a relevant policy has already begun. JLOS through its TJWG is committed to continuing the engagement with key stakeholders, civil society and victims’ organizations, to achieve these goals.

Published in Archived News

NEW YORK - The Honorable Minister of State and Deputy Attorney General - Hon. Fredrick Ruhindi on October 12-13, 2011 participated in an international meeting organized in New York by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) .

The conference was entitled “UNDP Policy Dialogue on ‘Complementarity’ and Transitional Justice”. The Honorable Minister made a presentation on the Role of Specialized Courts in Prosecuting International Crimes and Transitional Justice in Uganda.

The presentation highlighted Uganda’s numerous efforts made towards achieving complementarity in the area of criminal justice, and in line with its international obligations under the Rome Statute of the ICC. This was discussed within the context of the ongoing transitional justice process underway in the country.


By Nicole Ismene Zarifis




Published in Archived News
Wednesday, 06 June 2012 00:00

The Status of Amnesty in Uganda

On May 18, 2012 the JLOS Leadership and Steering Committee met to deliberate on the future of the Amnesty law in anticipation of its expected expiry on May 24, 2012.The Chair of the Transitional Justice Working Group presented the findings of the amnesty review process, which the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) had undertaken since early 2012.

The Chair presented the various options for the future of the amnesty law and the final proposal for the way forward for consideration. The Attorney General presented his position on the matter after which the members discussed both proposals. After consideration of the various options, the final TJWG proposal and the AG position, it was decided by consensus that:

1. Part II of the law should be allowed to lapse by May 2012, as per the Amnesty (Amendment) Act, 2006 (Insertion of section 16);

2. Allow the Amnesty Commission to maintain its activities in the area of reintegration and support to reporters for an additional 12 months; and,

3. Expedite the adoption of the national transitional justice policy for Uganda, within 12 months, from May 2012; and,

4. Adopt a new law to take forward a truth-seeking process that complements traditional justice practices. The body can incorporate a conditional amnesty for lesser offenses in exchange for the truth; and

5. Establish a victim assistance program, especially for victims suffering from serious physical and mental injuries and illnesses.

This decision was communicated to the relevant Ministers for consideration. On May 23, 2012, the Cabinet of Ministers met and decided to extend the Act with the lapse of Part II of the law.

The Amnesty Commission will continue its reintegration activities with reporters for one additional year. The statutory instruments were subsequently signed, and gazetted on June 1, 2012.


By Edgar Kuhimbisa | Published: May 19, 2012


Published in Archived News
Monday, 11 June 2012 00:00

The Status Amnesty in Uganda (Part 2)

On May 23, 2012, under statutory instrument No. 34 of 2012, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Eng. Hillary Onek (M.P) declared the Lapse of operation of Part II of the Amnesty Act Cap. 294, by virtue of section 16(3) of the Act. The Minister also under Statutory Instrument No. 35 of 2012 extended the expiry period of Part I, III, and IV of the Amnesty Act Cap. 294 for a period of 12 months by virtue of Section 16(2) of the Act.

 The declaration of Lapse of Part II of the Amnesty Act is legal. It is based on Section 16(3) of the Amnesty Act( as amended in 2006) which provides that; “ The Minister may by statutory instrument, declare the lapse of the operation of Part II of this Act”.

What are the implications of the Declaration of Lapse of Part II of the Act?

By declaration of the Lapse of Part II of this Act, Amnesty in Uganda has ceased. Hence it is non existent. Before its Lapse; Part II of the Amnesty Act concerned itself with provisions of the law relating to the grant of Amnesty as well as the procedures for the grant of Amnesty.

According to the then Section 2 of the Amnesty Act; An amnesty was declared in respect of any Ugandan who at any time since the 26th day of January, 1986, engaged in or was engaging in war or armed rebellion against the Government of the Republic of Uganda by—actual participation in combat; collaborating with the perpetrators of the war or armed rebellion; committing any other crime in the furtherance of the war or armed rebellion; or assisting or aiding the conduct or prosecution of the war or armed rebellion.

This meant that persons granted amnesty through the issuance of amnesty certicates, would not be subjected to prosectution or any form of punishment for the participation in the war or rebellion.

The Current status of the law is that; from the 25th May 2012 (day on which the Law took eftect), any person enagaging in war or armed rebellion against the Government of Uganda, shall if investigated be prosecuted and punished for such crime if found guilty.

What is the implication for those already issued Amnesty Certificates?

It is important to note that; those already issued amnesty certificates are still protected by the law. According to Article 28(5)(f) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda; “ No person shall be tried for a criminal offence if the person shows that he or she has been pardoned in respect of that offence” THEREFORE, THEY WILL NOT BE PROSECUTED FOR CRIMES FOR WHICH THEY HAVE ALREADY RECEIVED AMNESTY/PARDON.


What is the Future of the Amnesty Commission?

Part I, III and IV of the Amnesty Act were extended under Statutory Instrument No. 35 of 2012 for a period of 12 months. Part III of the Act, establishes the Amnesty commission, a demobilization and resettlement team, and elaborates its functions among other provisions.

Extension of Part III means that the Amnesty Commission shall continue discharging its duties of demobilization, reintegration, resettlement of reporters, and sensitization of the general public on the Amnesty Law and promote appropriate reconciliation mechanisms to affected communities. All this will be done during the one year extension period.

In short, the Amnesty Commission will continue resettling, demobilizing and reintegrating those reporters/persons who have already received amnesty.

Part IV of the Act provides for the duration of the Act and prescribes for regulations for the resettlement of persons and generally for better carrying out the provisions and principles of the Act.


Published in Archived News

On Feb.13-14, 2012, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) in collaboration with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Women hosted a conference entitled: Thematic Conference on the Right to Remedy and Reparations of the Conflict in Northern Uganda.The conference aimed to discuss key considerations for reparations policy and programming in Uganda and centered around the launch of two institutional reports on the issue of reparations.

The first report “The Dust has not yet Settled” features the views of victims on the right to remedy and reparation for conflict-related crimes, published by Uganda Human Rights Commission, a JLOS member, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The second report “Reparations, Development and Gender” was launched by UN Women and discusses the links between reparations and development in post-conflict settings. Both reports place special attention on the experiences of women, the harms committed and the differentiated impact of violence on women and girls.

A wide representation of JLOS member institutions were present at the conference as well as honorable members of Parliament and the Judiciary, the Office of the Prime Minister, local government representatives, civil society organizations, victims’ associations, and members of the international community.

The Chair of the JLOS Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) opened the conference with a keynote address. The TJWG is embarking on the task of developing a national transitional justice policy that seeks to be holistic and victim-centered. It will provide a framework on accountability and reconciliation, in the spirit of the Juba Agreements, and will outline the different mechanisms that will be adopted to achieve the overall goals.

This would include formal justice and alternative justice mechanisms to achieving transitional justice after conflict. Various forms of reparations are called for in the Juba Agreements, it is also a key feature of Uganda’s international law obligations, and it is firmly rooted in basic principles of justice.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs delivered remarks on the presentation of the UN reports; and the Deputy Attorney General and the State Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs was also represented. The presentations highlighted the provisions in the Juba Agreement on the delivery of reparations and recognized that the issue of reparations must be integrated into the larger transitional justice policy process being undertaken at present.

A key feature of the Juba Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation is the aspect of victim-centeredness. On this, a special panel was organized on victim participation in the development and design of reparations programs/policies, which highlighted victims’ views and voices on reparations and emphasized their role as key stakeholders in the process.

A number of issues were deliberated on during the conference, including identification of adequate forms of reparations for conflict-related crimes. Emphasis was on symbolic forms and rehabilitation of victims, as well as assistance with livelihoods and economic empowerment of victims.

Further, consideration was given to identification of an appropriate mechanism for delivery of reparations as well as how reparations should be implemented alongside other transitional justice mechanisms. The issue of community-driven reparations was also discussed, underlining the importance of a consultative and participatory policy development and implementation process.

The conference served to launch a public and interactive discussion on reparations for victims of mass violations. The TJWG will continue that discussion by taking up the issue as part of its task to develop the national policy on transitional justice.


By Edgar Kuhimbisa | Published: February 15, 2015

Published in Archived News

The Northern Uganda Transitional Justice Initiative (NUTI) has given the Justice Law and Order Sector a set of law books valued at US dollars 49,201.07 to support the Community Justice Centres at Pader, Patongo, Otuke and Kiryadongo.

Some of the books will be distributed to courts, offices of the directorate of public prosecution and police stations and posts in Northern Uganda including the High Court at Lira.

The handover function was held on 21st April 2011, at the offices of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and was presided over by Mr. Amos Ngolobe, the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions on behalf of JLOS and Mr. John Gattorn, USAID/OTI Country Representative. Mr. Gadenya Paul Wolimbwa, Ms. Harriet Muwanga of USAID and officials from NUTI attended the brief handover ceremony.

The books are meant to improve the quality of justice through enhanced investigation, prosecution and adjudication of cases.


By Edgar Kuhimbisa

Published in Archived News
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