Next Steps in Ongwen Trial after Defense Motion

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HAGUE, Netherlands

The defense of Dominic Ongwen filed a motion asking judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to dismiss as many as 41 of the 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity Ongwen has been charged. This has raised questions about what will happen next in the trial of Ongwen.

One thing that will not change – irrespective of what else happens in connection with the motion the defense has titled the “Defects Series” – is that Ongwen will still be the person who has been charged with the most counts in the ICC’s history.

Will the trial stop or be suspended?

The trial will continue as scheduled. The next hearing has been set for Monday, February 18. In the motion they filed on February 1, Ongwen’s lawyers did not ask the judges of Trial Chamber IX to stay or suspend the trial. This means the judges will only be considering the legal issues they have raised in the motion and not whether there is justification in stopping or suspending the trial.

What are the next steps?

Judges gave the prosecution and lawyers representing victims until February 25 to file their responses to the defense motion. Judges allowed each party to file responses of up to 65 pages long. After February 25, the defense may ask the trial chamber if they can reply to the prosecution and lawyer for victims’ responses. It is not automatic the chamber will grant such a request. Once all the responses, and any reply, are filed the chamber will then have time to make a decision. There is no time limit for the chamber to do so.

What happens if the judges decline the defense’s request?

Trial Chamber IX can decline to grant the defense’s request to dismiss 41 counts against Ongwen. If this happens the trial will continue as scheduled. The defense will be expected to continue calling its witnesses. The defense have said that they intend to call as many as 66 witnesses. So far, 15 defense witnesses have testified.

What happens if the judges accept the defense’s request?

Trial Chamber IX may choose to grant the defense’s request to dismiss 41 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Ongwen. This means the defense will have fewer charges to fight. If the judges make such a decision it would reduce the counts Ongwen is facing to 29. In such a scenario the defense could ask the court for a break to allow them to assess and adjust their defense strategy.

Do the judges have to accept the entirety of the defense’s request?

The judges may also choose to grant only part of the defense’s request to dismiss the 41 counts against Ongwen. This would still mean the defense will have fewer charges to fight.