ICC Rights Watch

International Criminal Court Convicts Dominic Ongwen of 61 Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes

By: William P. Hendon

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On February 4, 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found Dominic Ongwen guilty of 61 crimes against humanity, including four counts of rape, 4 counts of sexual slavery, 2 counts of forced pregnancy, and one count of forced marriage.  Ongwen was a leader of the Lord’s Salvation Army in Uganda.

Dominic Ongwen. Photo Courtesy of ICC.

The ICC had been looking for Ongwen for crimes committed in Uganda from July 2002 to December 2005. In December 2014, Ongwen gave himself up to the Central African Republic’s government who then turned him over to the ICC within ten days. Ongwen’s trial began December 6, 2016.

In 2010, the ICC issued the first warrant for a sex crime committed in furtherance of genocide. Critics say the lack of sex crime prosecutions is because the ICC’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, needed quick and easy cases to build the organization’s reputation. Others say the organization doesn’t prosecute sex crimes because of cultural stigmas and differences among peoples.

Acts of sexual violence have historically been brought under charges of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The ICC has expanded the definition of crimes against humanity to include crimes such as rape or forced pregnancy. Yet, the ICC has only indicted 44 people in its history. Sex crimes remain ignored and overlooked in favor of easier cases with easier evidence.

Seven witnesses testified at trial about their forced sexual encounters with Ongwen. Three of the women were Ongwen’s “wives.” One witness said, “When I started crying he asked me ‘between death and life, what do you choose?’” Another witness said, “I was only crying. I did not say anything nor refuse to sleep with him because I was fearful because he was commander and if I said anything or refused I would be killed.”

The pursuance of convictions of gender-based crimes against women and girls, under Article 7 of the Rome Statute, is pivotal for the ICC. The decision recognizes that biological females are affected by sex crimes differently than their biological male counterparts. It also allows for the organization to publicly announce that sex crimes are mainly gender-based. While this doesn’t mean to discredit other forms of sex crimes (namely, those committed against same-sex people and those committed against non-cisgender people), it is a step forward.

Ongwen was kidnapped by the LRA on his way to school as a boy. A psychiatrist at trial said Ongwen tried to escape the LRA with a few others; upon their capture, Ongwen was forced to skin another kidnappee alive. At trial, he said, “I’m one of the people against whom the LRA committed atrocities.”

For further information, please see:

BBC – Dominic Ongwen – from Child Abductee to LRA Rebel Commander – 4 Feb. 2021

BBC – LRA Commander Dominic Ongwen Appears Before ICC in The Hague – 26 Jan. 2015

ICC – Dominic Ongwen Declared Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Committed in Uganda – 4 Feb. 2021

ICC – Decision Scheduling a Hearing on Sentence and Setting the Related Procedural Calendar – 4 Feb. 2021

ICC – Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – 1 July 2002

Modern Ghana — ICC Confirms 70 Charges Against Ugandan LRA Rebel Leader — 21 Jan. 2016

ICC Holds That Their Jurisdictional Authority Extends to Palestine

By: Elizabeth Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAUGE, The Netherlands – The International Criminal Court (ICC) delivered a landmark ruling in response to a request by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (the Office) to clarify jurisdictional authority in Israeli-occupied Palestine. By a majority vote, the presiding judges held that the Court’s jurisdiction extends to the occupied West Bank areas of East Jerusalem and Gaza.

The panel of the pre-trial chamber judges assigned to the Situation of the State of Palestine – Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, Péter Kovács, and Reine Alapini-Gansou pictured in 2019. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

This decision came after the end of a nearly 5-year-long preliminary inquiry as to the possibility of opening an investigation into human rights abuses in the West Bank. Palestine made a formal request for an investigation in 2018, which allowed the Office to initiate one outright. However, the Office still sought guidance from the ICC before doing so.

The preliminary inquiry concluded that Rome Statute Article 53(1), detailing the ability of the Prosecutor’s Office to initiate an investigation, had been satisfied. Through the inquiry, the Office found that: [1] war crimes were being committed in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza; [2] potential cases arising would be admissible; [3] there is no reason the investigation would not serve to provide justice.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called upon the Court using Article 19(3) which concludes that the Prosecutor may seek the Court’s ruling regarding questions of jurisdiction or admissibility. She called for a ruling on jurisdiction based on Article 12(2)(a) which states that the Court may grant jurisdiction because Palestine is a party to the Rome Statute and it made a formal request for an investigation in its own territory. She marked the significance of the ruling as a foundational answer to the potential for future litigation. The Prosecutor’s request was then submitted to Pre-Trial Chamber I for the ruling.

The Pre-Trial Chamber I invited Israel and other interested countries to submit relevant observations of human rights abuses to the Chamber for review. These submitted observations, compiled with testimony of victims and an amicus curiae, helped to determine the final decision.

The Chamber held that, despite countervailing international law and recognition, Palestine is a signatory party to the Rome Statute and is therefore governed by ICC terms and must be treated as any other signatory state. UN General Assembly Resolution 67/19, which reaffirmed Palestinians right to self-determination and independence in the occupied Palestinian territory also guided the ruling.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Israel/Palestine: ICC Judges Open Door to Formal Probe – 6 Feb. 2021

International Criminal Court – ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I issues its decision on the Prosecutor’s request related to territorial jurisdiction over Palestine – 5 Feb. 2021

International Criminal Court – ICC Pre-Trial Chamber invites Palestine, Israel, interested States and others to submit observations – 28 Jan. 2020

International Criminal Court – Pre-Trial Chamber I: Situation in the State of Palestine – 5 Feb. 2021

International Criminal Court – Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on the conclusion of the preliminary examination of the Situation in Palestine, and seeking a ruling on the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction – 20 Dec. 2019

The Prosecutor v. Ali Muhammad

By: Jamie McLennan 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAUGE, Netherlands – Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman was transferred to the International Criminal Court’s custody on June 9th, 2020, after voluntarily surrendering himself in the Central African Republic. Ali Muhammad is the alleged leader of the Janjaweed, a militia civilian group in Africa.

Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman at the ICC on October 8, 2020. Photo Courtesy of the ICC.

The first arrest warrant against him lists fifty criminal counts of alleged attacks against civilians in the towns of Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar and Arawala between August 2003 and March 2004. The alleged crimes include twenty-two counts of crimes against humanity, murder, forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, rape, torture, persecution and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury. The list continues with a total of fifty-three counts for his individual criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Sudan.

The ICC will not hear a case without the accused individual in custody and present at the hearings. At the time of arrest, there were 27 international warrants for Ali Muhammad that spanned from April 2007 to June 2020. After Ali Muhammad was placed in custody, the initial hearing was scheduled to take place on December 7th, 2020. However, the confirmation of charges has been delayed until February 22nd, 2021. The court reviewed each party’s stance, taking into account the fairness and efficiency of the court’s proceedings, the rights of the suspects and victims, and the overall safety and security of the proceedings moving forward. The prosecutor requested an extended timeline to collect more evidence against Ali Muhammad. After much consideration, the court determined that there should be a later date for the confirmation of charges and later deadlines for the disclosure of evidence by the prosecutor.

The purpose of the confirmation of charges hearing is for the court to evaluate the evidence of the crimes to establish if there are substantial grounds to believe that the accused individual committed the alleged crimes. If the court believes that the evidence is sufficient, the case will then be transferred to the Trial Chamber, where the proceedings will move to the trial phase. Due to COVID-19, the ICC is using a web streaming service to broadcast all hearings with a thirty-minute delay for any private information that may need to be redacted.

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court- Decision on the Prosecutor’s Request for Postponement- 2 Nov. 2020

International Criminal Court- Press Release- 2 Nov. 2020

International Criminal Court- Redacted First Warrant of Arrest- 27 April 2020

International Criminal Court- Redacted Second Warrant of Arrest- 11 June 2020

ICC Voices Concern Regarding Increasing Violence in the Ivory Coast in Response to President Alassane Seeking a Controversial Third Term

By: Hannah Bennink

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Citizens in the Ivory Coast began casting their votes on Saturday, October 31st, 2020, in what has been an extremely controversial presidential election. The polls closed at 18:00 local time (GMT) and the votes are currently being counted; however, early estimates show a likely win for the incumbent.

A woman casts her vote during the presidential election in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Photo courtesy of AP News.

Running in the election is: President Alassane Ouattara, age 78, of the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace; Henri Konan Bédié, age 86, of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast; Pascal Affi N’Guessan, age 67, of the Ivorian Popular Front faction; and Kouadio Konan Bertin, age 51, as an independent candidate.

Protests broke out in August when, in response to the death of his preferred successor, President Ouattara said he would run for a third term despite it violating the country’s constitution’s two-term presidential limit. The President justified his running for a third term because of a 2016 constitutional referendum, which he claimed, “reset the clock” and invalidated his first term. His opponents disagreed, however, saying a third term for the president would be illegal.

The protests in response to the election began in August and have resulted in at least 30 deaths. There were at least 12 more deaths from election day clashes. Opposition parties had called for civil disobedience, mass protests, and an overall boycott of the presidential vote in an effort to “block a dictatorship.” Opposition activists blocked roads and burned election materials, shutting down an estimated 23 percent of polling stations. The protestors closest to the neighborhood where President Ouattara cast his ballot were cleared with tear gas.

There have been long-standing tensions in the Ivory Coast between several of the country’s leading politicians, but most the most recent conflict occurred in 2010 when Laurent Gbagbo, the president at the time, refused to concede to now President Ouattara. A violent civil war followed and resulted in more than 3,000 deaths in five months of violence. Gbagbo was acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, however many believe that anger over Ouattara’s seeking a third election may end in another massive violent conflict.

The International Criminal Court voiced its concern about the escalation of violence in the Ivory Coast as the election grew near, specifically the allegations of intercommunal violence and the destruction of civilian-owned property. The Court noted that its investigations on the Ivory Coast, opened in October 2011, remain ongoing and that the violence seen in 2010 must not be repeated by any side.

On November 2nd, in response to what seems to be an overwhelming win for President Ouattara, opposition leaders announced that they will not recognize the President’s victory. The leaders also stated that they have formed a national transition council and that an interim government would be named to prepare for a new election.

For further information, please see:

BBC NEWS – Ivory Coast elections: Voters go to the polls amid opposition boycott – 31 Oct. 2020

International Criminal Court – Statement by the ICC Prosecutor on the pre-election violence and mounting intercommunity tensions: The violence seen in Côte d’Ivoire during the first pre- and post-election crisis of 2010 must not be repeated – 28 Oct. 2020

AP News – Ivory Coast Opposition asserts 12 dead in election violence – 31 Oct. 2020

AP News – Ivory Coast tensions rise as president seeks 3rd term – 30 Oct. 2020

Thomson Reuters – Ivory Coast’s Ouattara takes early lead in election – 1 Nov. 2020

Al Jazeera – Ouattara’s election victory could risk Ivory Coast’s stability – 2 Nov. 2020

New Public Redacted Documents available on Al Hassan Trial

By: Rebecca Buchanan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On October 21st, 2020, Trial Chamber X of The International Criminal Court (ICC) released new public redacted versions of key trial decisions in the case of Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mohamed (Al Hassan).

Al Hassan during pre-trial discussions at the International Criminal Court. Photo Courtesy of the ICC.

The Al Hassan trial began on July 14th, 2020, following a lengthy Pre-Trial Phase. Al Hassan is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Timbuktu, Mali between 2012 and 2013. On September 8th, 2020, the prosecution began its ongoing presentation of evidence and witness testimony.

The newly released trial documents address the inclusion of prior recorded testimony, the validity of expert witnesses for the prosecution, and the late addition of evidence to the Final List of Evidence by the prosecution. The documents, originally dated August 5th, 2020, provide valuable insight into the ongoing witness testimony brought by the prosecution, and shed light on the Chamber’s application of its own Rules of Procedure and Evidence.

On June 1st-2nd, 2020, the prosecution filed multiple requests regarding 27 proposed expert witnesses. They sought to authorize the validity and use of specific expert witnesses (noted in the document by number, rather than name), and the introduction of previously recorded testimony by additional expert witnesses pursuant to Rule 68(3). Rule 68(3) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence allows the introduction of previously recorded testimony so long as the witness is present before the Trial Chamber, the witness does not object to the inclusion of the testimony, and all parties have the opportunity to examine the witness during the trial.

The defense filed a response to the request challenging the relevance and probative value of 6 expert witnesses and objecting to the inclusion of previously recorded testimony by 8 of the prosecution’s witnesses. In its ruling, the Chamber noted that it would not determine the admissibility of evidence until the end of the trial but would offer preliminary decisions relating to Rule 68(3) and the general permissibility of certain expert testimony. The Chamber determined that 21 of the 27 proposed expert witnesses for the Prosecution would be allowed to testify. The Chamber deemed the previously recorded testimony of 12 expert witnesses admissible under 68(3) but, in service of fairness to the defense, limited the prosecution’s examination to one hour.

The June 1st-2nd, requests also included an appeal for late additions to the prosecution’s Final List of Evidence pursuant to Regulation 35 of the Regulations of the Court. Regulation 35 allows the court to extend any time limit placed upon parties when good reason is shown, or when a party can prove they were unable to file their application within the time limit for reasons beyond their control. The defense filed a response opposing portions of the prosecution’s request, noting that the prosecution had already been granted an extension on the deadline to produce evidence from April 14, 2020, to May 12, 2020. The Chamber judgment granted the addition of 11 items into the prosecution’s Final List of Evidence, none of which were objected to by the defense.

The prosecution’s presentation of evidence and witness testimony is ongoing. The defense and Legal Representatives of Victims will give their opening statements when the prosecution concludes its presentation of the case.

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court – Al Hassan Case: Decision on the Prosecution’s Proposed Expert Witnesses – 21 Oct. 2020

International Criminal Court – Al Hassan Case: Decision on the Prosecution Requests Pursuant to Regulation 35 Regarding P-0660 and P-0661 and to add 12 items to its Final List of Evidence – 21 Oct. 2020

International Criminal Court – Al Hassan Case: Case Information Sheet – Oct. 2020

Impunity Watch – First Witness of the Prosecution Testifies at Al Hassan’s Trial – 5 Oct. 2020