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Dominic Ongwen ICC Pre-Trial: FAQ

Dominic Ongwen (Source: ICC) Dominic Ongwen (Source: ICC)


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