International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Expert Witness Describes Northern Uganda Conflict as “Intimate”

An expert witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that at one point the decades-long conflict in northern Uganda was an “intimate” war because many people on opposing sides grew up together and were in regular communication.

Tim Allen, a professor at the London School of Economics, testified on January 17 that he observed this when he was doing research on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda in 2004.

Allen was testifying on Tuesday as an expert on the LRA and northern Uganda because he has been researching the Ugandan rebel group since the 1980s. He began his testimony on Monday when he was questioned by the prosecution and lawyers representing victims in the trial against a former LRA leader, Dominic Ongwen.

Ongwen is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for attacks between July 2002 and December 2005 on four camps for people displaced by the northern Uganda conflict. The charges against him also include forcibly marrying seven women and committing sexual crimes against them.

Allen described the northern Uganda town of Gulu as “quite a strange world,” in 2004. He told the court he could be sitting with a senior officer of the Ugandan military, senior government official, or a legislator and the then deputy leader of the LRA, Vincent Otti, “would sometimes ring up people and talk to them.”

“It was a very intimate kind of war at that point [2004],” Allen told the court.

The witness also told the court the LRA was a “remarkable” group for having lasted this long. The group first emerged in Uganda in the late 1980s and has continued to exist to date.

“It is remarkable the degree to which the LRA was able to operate as a large cohesive group and break up into small groups and still endure,” said Allen.

The time Allen is referring to is when the LRA lost its rear bases in neighboring Sudan, and it broke up into small groups after the Ugandan government received permission from the Sudanese government to attack the LRA’s bases in Sudan. This happened during and after 2002 when the Ugandan government launched a major offensive against the LRA it called Operation Iron Fist.

Allen said Joseph Kony founded the LRA and has managed to exert control over the group for close to three decades.

“Kony’s influence on the LRA was remarkable, but it wasn’t consistent,” said Allen, referring to the fact that Kony is an unpredictable person, and LRA commanders enjoy a measure of autonomy over the units they control.

Allen answered additional questions about the belief that Kony was possessed by spirits and how this belief is derived from the culture of the Acholi, the ethnic group Kony belongs to. Allen also told the court about some of the ways children abducted by the LRA were initiated into the group and how they were indoctrinated. After Ongwen’s lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, finished his cross-examination, Allen concluded his testimony.

A new witness will testify on Wednesday.

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