ICC to Hold First In Absentia Hearing Against Ugandan Rebel Leader

By: Tatiana Vaz
Journal of Global Rights and Organizations
, Associate Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On March 4, 2024, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Pre-Trial Chamber II issued a decision granting Prosecutor Karim Kham’s request to hold a confirmation hearing in the case against Joseph Kony in his absence, should he not appear, to commence on October 15, 2024. This is will be the ICC’s first in absentia hearing.

The International Criminal Court’s Headquarters at the Hague. | Photo courtesy of ICC.

Joseph Kony was the founder and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (“LRA”) in Uganda. The LRA is a Ugandan rebel group that currently operates in the border region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. The group was established by Kony in 1998 with the claim of resorting to the honor of his ethnic Acholi people and installing a government based on his vision of the Ten Commandments. From July 1, 2001, until December 31, 2005, the LRA, an organization within the meaning of Article 7 (2)(a) of the Rome Statue, carried out widespread and systematic attacks against the civil population of northern Uganda.

Joseph Kony is suspected of twelve counts of crimes against humanity including murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape, and inhuman acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering. He is also suspected of 21 counts of war crimes, including murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, including rape, and forced enlistment of children between the years of2003 and 2004. The ICC issued a warrant for Kony’s arrest in 2005. However, he remains at large and is the only remaining suspect.

The Rome Statute, which is the treaty that governs the ICC, allows for a confirmation hearing proceeding at the pre-trial stage in the absence of the suspect. The confirmation hearing is not a trial, but it allows the prosecutor the opportunity to outline their case before the court. The Pre- Trial Chamber II consists of Presiding Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, Judge Tomoko Akane, and Judge Sergio Gerardo Ugalde Godinez.

Following the receipt of documents containing the charges against Kony and the Registry report on its efforts to inform Kony on those charges, the Court found that all reasonable steps to inform Kony of the charges against him have been taken within the meaning of Article 61 (2)(b) of the Rome Statue. The Court decided that the confirmation of charges hearing is to be held in the absence of Kony, should he not appear, and will begin October 15, 2024.

The Court also stated that it would ensure Kony’s right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense under Article 61 (1)(b) of the Rome Statue, and Rule 121 (1) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence will be fulfilled. The ICC stressed this right in light of the fact that, should the Court definitively decide that there is a cause to authorize a confirmation of charges in Kony’s absence, counsel will have to be appointed to represent his rights and interests in the proceeding.

The Court also required that Counsel have sufficient time to prepare their case Kony’s absence. As a result, the Prosecution must provide the Court with information in terms of the evidence and witnesses they plan to call within four weeks of the notification of the present decision. The Court further instructed the Registry to commence the process of searching for counsel to represent Kony’s rights and interests during the confirmation process and confirmation hearing, should this take place in his absence. The Registry is instructed to report back on their progress within three weeks of the notification of this present decision, whom they will appoint in time for the Prosecution’s disclosure of witnesses and evidence they plan to present.

The ICC’s decision is most certainly a step in the right direction, as many affected communities in Uganda believed it was over and lost hope. The confirmation hearing provides many victims with the opportunity to finally have their voices heard. The ICC has also taken other steps for the victims affected. Earlier this year the ICC granted reparations of more than $56 million to the victims of one of the convicted commanders of the LRA. Victims include former child soldiers and children born as a result of rapes and forced pregnancies. The ICC is currently seeking more state and non-partner assistance to capture Kony.

For further information please see:

AP – ICC Awards $56 Million in Reparations to Thousands of Victims of Convicted Ugandan Rebel Commander – 28 Feb. 2024

AP – International Criminal Court to Hold First Ever in Absentia Hearing Over Ugandan Rebel Leader Kony – 4 Mar. 2024

Counterterrorism Guide – Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – ND

FIDH – Uganda and the ICC: Justice at Last? – 14 Feb. 2024

ICC – Information on the Kony Case – ND

The East African – ICC Prosecutor Seeks Support in Hunt for Ugandan Warlord Kony – 4 Feb. 2023

Reuters – ICC Allows in Absentia Hearings in Case against Ugandan Warlord Kony – 4 Mar. 2024


Author: Sydney Krause