THE HAGUE- The defence team in the trial of Dominic Ongwen has accused the International Criminal Court (ICC) of being used by the government of President Yoweri Museveni to pin their client.
The team led by Kampala-based lawyer, Mr Krispus Ayena Odongo argued that Uganda being a State Party to the Rome Statute, referred only one side of the conflict to ICC.
Mr Ayena said the Chief Prosecutor of The Hague-based court should have gone with an open mind “not with a close mind to investigate only one specific group of people, and should have investigated everywhere.”
“As you will all agree with me it takes two to tangle – Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fought with UPDF-you know that. Why did they refer only one side of the coin to the court? So, that is culprit number one,” Mr Ayena told the Ugandan delegation at The Hague on Thursday, adding that the government of Uganda is misusing the ICC.
The defence team further said people who were affected by the conflict in northern Uganda were complaining about the atrocities allegedly committed by the UPDF.
“We are saying to that extent the government of Uganda is misusing the court and the Office of the Prosecutor has allowed itself to be misused by the government of Uganda in this case,” Mr Ayena said.
Mr Ayena said the Presiding Judge Péter Kovács, at the opening of the proceedings, stated that when the LRA situation was referred to the ICC, it was supposed to involve investigations for the whole situation regardless of who and where it happened.
According to the lawyer, there is sizeable evidence that government forces (UPDF) committed atrocities in the north.
“All these are common knowledge because the video clip (recently played at the ICC) exposed the bitterness with which Gen David Tinyefuza (now Gen David Sejusa) accused his commander-in-chief of being a megalomania, accused his commander-in-chief of being somebody who is not for anything else but power; accused Museveni of failing to stop the war, accused Museveni of dehumanising the people of Acholi and people of northern Uganda for 27 years,” Mr Ayena said.
Another defence counsel, Mr Charles Achaleke Taku, said the Kampala administration failed in its constitutional duty to provide protection for Ongwen and the children and the population of northern Uganda.
“Since Ongwen was abducted, apart from living here, he has not had for more than 27 years now the possibility of being out as a free person,” he said.
Ms Beth Lyons agreed with his legal friends, saying the responsibility of the prosecution under the Rome Statute to investigate all the circumstances concerning a situation and a client to equally investigate those circumstances maybe incriminatory and those circumstances that may exonerate him.
However, at The Hague, any criticism of the ICC and its Chief Prosecutor or divergent opinion regarding the ICC is considered as being “anti-ICC”.
Mr Christian Mahr, the Director Division of External Operations, earlier told journalists from Uganda that the world first permanent war crimes court is no stranger to criticism.
“We will continue to make our case valid and this is where we should be more clear because we are not political and it is up to the court to decide whether a case can be investigated or not,” he said on Wednesday.
Also, many African leaders, including some Ugandan politicians have criticised the ICC as being “anti-African.”
Nonetheless, these criticisms seem unreasonable to those fighting against the culture of impunity.
Ms Romina Morello, ICC’s Associate External Relations and Cooperation Officer, said the criticism is misplaced, biased, and often incorrect.