THE HAGUE, THE NETHERLANDS. Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) warlord Dominic Ongwen currently serving a 25-year jail term in The Hague, The Netherlands, has fallen out with his lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo.
This cutting of ties that once closely bonded the two has been attributed to a serious “communication breakdown” between Ongwen and lawyer Ayena. The two had spent nearly seven years together enjoying lawyer-client relationship.
Ongwen was arrested in the jungles of the Central African Republic (CAR) and airlifted to the ICC detention centre in The Hague on January 21, 2015. He was found guilty of committing atrocities in northern Uganda during 20 years of war between the LRA rebels led by Joseph Kony and Uganda government troops.
But the breaking of ties came on June 7 when a panel of five judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC), formally allowed Mr Ayena to withdraw as lead counsel for Ongwen, a former LRA rebel brigade commander of Sinia Brigade.
“Mr Krispus Ayena Odongo’s request for leave to withdraw as counsel for Mr Ongwen in the above-mentioned appeal is granted. The Registry is directed to take all necessary steps to facilitate the prompt appointment,” ruled lead judge Liz Del Carmen Ibanez Carranza, on June 7.
Ongwen has since hired another defence lawyer of Cameroonian origin, Mr Charles Achalette Taku.
Mr Taku in his application to court to allow him represent Ongwen, cited breakdown of communication as the main reason that forced Ongwen to part ways with Mr Ayena, his long-time defense lawyer.
But Mr Taku did not cite any specific aspects of the breakdown in communication between the duo. He only said Ongwen had told him about a serious communication breakdown.
However, sources privy to the rift between Ongwen and his lawyer Ayena, claimed the former was forced to hire counsel Ayena because he was the only lawyer he had closely known.
Ayena had previously served as legal counsel to Kony and his team during the Juba peace talks with the government of Uganda in 2006. So when Ongwen was arrested in the jungles of the Central African Republic, Ayena became his automatic choice since Ongwen only spoke Acholi, which Ayena also spoke.
The sources say Ongwen has over the years in prison learnt some English and is able to hold conversation with another defense lawyer.
But Mr Ayena dismissed the allegations of a fallout and branded them as false and insisted that his withdrawal was voluntary. “Absolutely not true. Consider that the case is done. It only awaits judgment on appeal,” Mr Ayena said on Wednesday morning via a WhatsApp message.
“I felt I had done my part. I was already losing valuable clients due to [my] long absence. I, therefore, voluntarily withdrew my services since we are just waiting for the appeal judgment so that I can concentrate on my cases and retain my clientele,” he added.
Court documents at the ICC show that on June 1, Mr Ayena formally moved court under Regulation 78(1) to withdraw as counsel for Ongwen in his appeal proceedings.
The court documents also show that on the same date, Mr Taku filed a notification before the Appeals Chamber, indicating that Ongwen had agreed to appoint him as his new lead defense counsel to replace Mr Ayena for the remaining phase of appeal proceedings.
“Mr Taku stated that communication between Mr Ayena and Ongwen ‘has completely broken down’. Mr Taku further submits that the composition of the legal team representing Ongwen will not change and that given the team’s familiarity with the case, the change of counsel will not disrupt or occasion any delays in the present proceedings.” reads part of the court documents.
Look North Online has learnt that Mr Taku has already met Ongwen to come up with a new programme of navigating the remaining appeal proceedings.
On February 4, 2021, the Trial Chamber found Ongwen guilty of 61 crimes listed as war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Uganda between July 1, 2002, and December 2005.
The attacks against civilians, which left more than 100,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands more injured, included crimes committed against them like, murder, attempted murder, torture, enslavement, and sexual crimes committed against women in internally displaced people’s camps (IDPs) in Pajule, Odek, Lukodi and Abok, all in northern Uganda.
But Ongwen has since appealed against it, stating that he is dissatisfied with the Trial Chamber’s decision.
The appeal is now pending with the verdict expected out in December this year.