The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has upheld the conviction of former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels commander Dominic Ongwen.
Ongwen was convicted of 61 crimes including crimes against humanity and war crimes by the trial chamber in February last year. He was consequently sentenced to 25 years in prison by the ICC in May last year for the crimes committed in northern Uganda between July 1, 2002 and December 31, 2005.
Through his lawyers, Ongwen however filed an appeal seeking to overturn both the conviction and sentencing last year. His lawyers raised 90 grounds of appeal consisting of alleged legal, factual and procedural errors relating to the conviction, and 11 grounds of appeal, alleging legal, factual, and procedural errors relating to the sentence.
On Thursday while delivering a verdict on the conviction appeal, the presiding judge of the appeals chamber Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza rejected all the grounds raised by the accused lawyer challenging his conviction during a verdict.
The defense lawyers among others had raised grounds that the accused was a child soldier who had been recruited and trained to kill and also followed the orders of LRA leader Joseph Kony who possessed supernatural powers.
Carranza however noted that whereas the appeal chamber acknowledges the accused was abducted at a young age, the crimes he was convicted of were committed while he was an adult.
“While acknowledging that Mr Ongwen was abducted at a young age by the LRA, the trial chamber noted that the accused committed the relevant crimes when he was an adult and importantly that in any case, the fact of having been a victim of crime doesn’t constitute in and of itself a justification of any sort for the commission of similar or other crimes,” she ruled.
She also noted that the court unanimously confirmed the conviction decision of the trial chamber that convicted Ongwen of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“For the reason set out in the judgment, the appeals chamber rejects all the defense’s grounds of appeal and confirms unanimously the conviction decision,” she ruled.
Caranza however in concluding the judgment, expressed recognition for the sufferings undergone by the victims of crimes committed by Ongwen.
“In concluding the summary of this judgment and given that the relevant findings of the trial chamber have been confirmed, the appeals chamber wishes to recognize the extreme suffering experienced by the victims of crimes committed by Mr Ongwen during the time relevant to the charges”
The appeals chamber is also expected to deliver the second verdict on Ongwen in which he appealed against the 25 years imprisonment handed to him by the trial chamber in May last year.
Other judges in the appeals chamber were Judge Piotr Hofmański (excused today), Solome Balungi Bossa, Reine Alapini-Gansou, and Gocha Lordkipanidze.
Ongwen was a former brigade Commander of the Sinia Brigade of the LRA and the first among the top LRA commanders indicted to be arrested and tried at The Hague-based court.
His former commander Joseph Kony remains in hiding but the ICC prosecutor Karim Khan recently requested the judges at the pre-trial chamber II to hold a hearing to confirm charges against him in his absence.