Judges Adjourn Ongwen’s Trial for Two Weeks for Doctors to Assess His Health

Ayena Odongo leads Dominic Ongwen’s defence team

Tom Maliti International Justice Monitor 

Judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) have adjourned the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), for two weeks to allow his lawyers have doctors assess his [Ongwen’s] health.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt, together with Judges Péter Kovács and Raul C. Pangalangan of Trial Chamber IX, agreed to adjourn the trial to January 28. Hearings were supposed to resume on Monday, January 14 after a nearly two-month break.

The judges made the decision via email late on Friday, January 11 following a defense request for adjournment that was made a day earlier, on January 10. In their Friday email, the judges said they would provide the reasons for granting the defense’s request for adjournment later, which happened the following Wednesday.

In their redacted decision, Trial Chamber IX said they granted the adjournment, “solely in order for the accused to receive any necessary medical treatment ….”

The judges also ordered the medical officer of the detention center where Ongwen is held to report by January 23 whether Ongwen will be able to attend the hearing scheduled for January 28. Trial Chamber IX said they were not ordering an additional examination of Ongwen but asking the medical officer to report back on what they find during their routine work.

Trial Chamber IX, however, did decline to grant the defense request that their mental health experts examine Ongwen under Rule 135 of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. This rule provides for a trial chamber to order a medical, psychiatric or psychological examination of an accused. The rule says that a trial chamber can do this on its own initiative or at the request of the defense or the prosecution. It also provides for a trial to be adjourned if a trial chamber finds an accused person is not fit to stand trial.

In its decision on Wednesday, Trial Chamber IX said the issue of whether Ongwen is fit to stand trial was raised in December 2016and at the time the chamber determined he was fit to stand trial. The judges said the defense did not present any new information in the request for an adjournment they made last Thursday to persuade the judges to change that decision.