ICC terminates case against dead ex-LRA commander Vincent Otti

ICC terminates case against dead ex-LRA commander Vincent Otti
Vincent Otti (Centre), the deputy commander of Uganda's Lord Resistance Army (LRA) addresses a news conference in Ri-Kwangba, near the Sudan-Congo border, Sept. 20, 2006.

The Hague, Netherlands | By Michael Wandati | On November 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, concluded proceedings on Vincent Otti, the former LRA deputy leader, assuming his death. The announcement pertained to Otti’s alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, forced child enlistment, cruel treatment, and pillaging.

However, LRA defectors had asserted since 2007 that Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), had executed Otti, a key figure in peace talks.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) concurred with prosecutors, stating that all available evidence pointed to Otti’s death in a remote area of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in October 2007.  The Chamber recalled that the Court cannot exercise jurisdiction over a deceased person.

The prosecution appended two witness statements and explained that the only eye witness to Otti’s killing must also be assumed dead.

The demise of the Ugandan suspect, Vincent Otti, accused of 32 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, necessitated the termination of the proceedings by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Consequently, all pertinent documents, including any warrants of arrest, are now rendered null and void.

“For these reasons, the Chamber hereby terminates the proceedings against Vincent Otti, instructs the Registrar to inform all States which were notified by of the Warrant of Arrest that it is no longer in effect and to withdraw the requests for arrest and surrender,” the notice by ICC further read.

The decision of the ICC Judges to withdraw crimes against Vincent Otti, who included Rosario Salvatore Aitala, Tomoko Akane, and Judge Sergio Gerardo Ugalde Godínez was contained in a notice seen by the Kampala Dispatch, was issued on Friday to the Office of the Prosecutor, Legal Representatives of Victims, State Representatives, Office of Public Counsel of Victims, and the Court’s Registry.

The prosecution explained that “all available evidence indicates that Otti was killed in a remote area of the Democratic Republic of Congo in October 2007.”

On 8 July 2005, the Chamber issued a warrant against Otti but on two previous occasions, the prosecution made requests for the case against him to be terminated after providing information pointing towards Otti having been killed on or around 2 October 2007 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On 1 December 2022, the Chamber rejected a second request. However, mindful of the ongoing efforts of the prosecution to collect further information on the basis of which Otti’s death could be established, the Chamber indicated its willingness to consider a new request based on additional evidence.

Having collected further evidence, the prosecution filed the Third Request on 15 November 2023. It explains that although the Ugandan authorities have informed the prosecution that no death certificate exists, ‘all available evidence indicates that Otti was killed in a remote area of the DRC in October 2007.

In addition to the information previously submitted before the Chamber, the prosecution appends two witness statements and explains that the only eyewitness to Otti’s killing must also be assumed dead. It indicates that further investigative steps are unlikely to result in any additional proof.

The prosecution convinced the Judges that in the circumstances, terminating the case against him would ‘bring some degree of closure to the victims and communities affected by Otti’s crimes’

“The Chamber considers that with the further information, it now has a significant amount of evidence before it supporting the prosecution’s claim. Based on the totality of the information before it, the Chamber finds the only reasonable conclusion to be that Otti is no longer alive,” read the notice from the Pre-Trial Chamber II.

Alongside Vincent Otti, the ICC also issued a warrant of arrest for Okot Odhiambo, Raska Lukwiya, Dominic Ongwen, and Joseph Kony for two-decade-long gross human rights violations and war crimes against humanity. However, Odhimbo and Lukwiya have been confirmed dead since 2006 and their warrant of arrest consequently dropped.

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With Ongwen already in ICC custody following his surrender to the American forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) on 6 January 2015, it is only LRA Chief, Joseph Kony who remains at large.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan expressed his intention last year to revive a case against Kony, a fugitive facing over 30 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The LRA began as an evolution of ‘the Holy Spirit Movement’ – a rebellion against President Yoweri Museveni in north of Uganda, led by Alice Lakwena. When Lakwena was exiled, Kony took over, changing the name of the group to the LRA, and continued instilling terror in Ugandans and neighboring countries for nearly two decades.

According to the United Nations – UN, the LRA was responsible for more than 100,000 deaths, the abduction of between 60,000 to 100,000 children, and the displacement of 2.5 million civilians between 1987 and 2012.

Joseph Kony led the LRA, Although the group has largely been eradicated in recent years, Kony remains a fugitive from justice.