Lawyer urges ICC to acquit Ugandan war criminal on appeal

February 14, 2022 GMT
FILE- In this Dec. 6, 2016, file photo, Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the brutal Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, enters the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands. A lawyer for a Ugandan rebel commander told appeals judges Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, that his client was found guilty of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity by an International Criminal Court panel that cherry picked evidence to ensure a conviction. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
FILE- In this Dec. 6, 2016, file photo, Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the brutal Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, enters the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands. A lawyer for a Ugandan rebel commander told appeals judges Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, that his client was found guilty of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity by an International Criminal Court panel that cherry picked evidence to ensure a conviction. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
FILE- In this Dec. 6, 2016, file photo, Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the brutal Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, enters the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands. A lawyer for a Ugandan rebel commander told appeals judges Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, that his client was found guilty of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity by an International Criminal Court panel that cherry picked evidence to ensure a conviction. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
FILE- In this Dec. 6, 2016, file photo, Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the brutal Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, enters the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands. A lawyer for a Ugandan rebel commander told appeals judges Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, that his client was found guilty of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity by an International Criminal Court panel that cherry picked evidence to ensure a conviction. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
FILE- In this Dec. 6, 2016, file photo, Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the brutal Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, enters the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands. A lawyer for a Ugandan rebel commander told appeals judges Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, that his client was found guilty of dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity by an International Criminal Court panel that cherry picked evidence to ensure a conviction. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A lawyer for a Ugandan rebel commander serving a 25-year sentence for dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity told appeals judges Monday that his client was found guilty by an International Criminal Court trail panel that cherry-picked evidence to ensure he was convicted.

Prosecution lawyers responded that Dominic Ongwen was “properly and fairly convicted” after an exhaustive trial that heard evidence from 179 prosecution and defense witnesses and assessed more than 5,000 items of evidence.

Defense lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo was speaking on the first day of an appeal hearing at the global court for Ongwen who was convicted last year on 61 charges for his role as a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, the shadowy Ugandan rebel group led by fugitive warlord Joseph Kony.

Judges in May sentenced Ongwen to 25 years for a litany of crimes that include murder, rape, forced marriage, forced pregnancy and using child soldiers.

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But Odongo is seeking his acquittal and release, arguing Ongwen did not get a fair hearing.

“The trial court did not base its decision and judgment on the entire proceedings. The Trial Chamber decided to cherry-pick what was helpful in making sure that they attained conviction,” Odongo told a five-judge appeals panel that is expected to take months to issue its decision after public hearings this week.

“It appears that the court came with a predetermined mind to convict Dominic Ongwen,” he added.

Ongwen’s lawyers have listed 90 grounds of appeal alleging legal, factual and procedural errors in the original verdict, Presiding Judge Luz del Carmen Ibáñez Carranza said as the hearing opened Monday.

Prosecution counsel Helen Brady said there was little in the defense appeal that was not already ruled on during the trial.

“Mr. Ongwen has largely repeated his trial arguments, but he fails to show that the trial chamber erred in law, in fact, or procedurally. His appeal should be dismissed and his convictions upheld,” she said.

Throughout his trial, Ongwen’s defense lawyers portrayed him as a victim of the LRA’s brutality — abducted on his way to school as a 9-year-old and traumatized by his experiences in the group’s violent insurgency.

Odongo said Monday that following his abduction he had essentially been enslaved by Kony.

“He provided slave labor and therefore he should not be punished twice,” he told judges.

Founded by Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army began as an antigovernment rebellion in Uganda. When the military forced the group out of Uganda in 2005, the rebels scattered across parts of central Africa.

Kony remains on the run despite concerted efforts to track him down. His case gained international notoriety in 2012 when the U.S.-based advocacy group Invisible Children made a video highlighting the LRA’s crimes that went viral.