Issue of Whether Ongwen Planned to Escape LRA Comes Up Again in Trial

The question of whether Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), planned to escape from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) came up again on Tuesday.

The matter came up as Witness P-016 continued listening to excerpts of audio recordings of LRA radio communications to match with transcripts he was given to read by the prosecution.

Witness P-016 is a former radio operator for the LRA. The recordings are intercepts Ugandan military and intelligence officers made of LRA radio communications. The transcripts were prepared by the prosecution. On Monday, Witness P-016 told the court he had reviewed the transcripts several times over the years since he escaped from the Ugandan rebel group, which was 12 years ago.

Ongwen is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in attacks on the Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. The prosecution has said these attacks took place between 2003 and 2004. During this period, the prosecution has said Ongwen was a battalion commander and then a brigade commander within the LRA. Other charges against Ongwen include forcibly marrying seven women when they were girls and committing sexual crimes against them.

During the hearing on Tuesday, the prosecution played several excerpts of audio recordings of LRA radio communications for Witness P-016 to listen to. He would then be asked to summarize what he heard. After this, the witness was asked to refer to a transcript of what was played for him and confirm it reflected what he had heard. He then was asked to confirm whether he made the annotations on the transcript.

In one excerpt that was played in court on Tuesday, Witness P-016 told the court that an LRA commander called Ocan Laboingo referred to a broadcast on Mega FM, a radio station that is widely listened to in northern Uganda. The witness said that Laboingo said Mega FM broadcast an interview with an individual who used to be with the LRA but had escaped, and that individual, in addition to calling on other LRA members to leave the group, said Dominic Ongwen planned to escape the group as well.

Witness P-016 then said Laboingo said, “Dominic should kill all those people. Dominic said that is exactly what he is going to do.”

As the witness was summarizing this excerpt, it was unclear the people Laboingo and Ongwen were referring to. It was also unclear the date of the Mega FM broadcast referred to in the conversation.

The possibility that Ongwen may have wanted to leave the LRA also came up last Thursday during the testimony of an analyst with the Office of the Prosecutor.

During their statements at the opening of the trial in December last year, lawyers for victims said their clients questioned why Ongwen stayed with the LRA for all these years even if he was abducted by the group when he was a child. The lawyers for victims noted that some of their clients said that despite being abducted by the LRA and suffering rape and other violations by LRA fighters, they eventually escaped.

On Tuesday, Witness P-016 summarized another audio recording excerpt as a conversation between Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, and Ongwen. In this conversation, the witness said Ongwen reported that during an attack in an unnamed place, he seized a mobile phone. The witness said Kony ordered Ongwen to keep the phone safe and see whether it could be repaired because Ongwen had reported its screen was cracked.

Last week, that same analyst with the Office of the Prosecutor noted above told the court that the policy of the LRA was that no one was allowed to have mobile phones.

The day ended with trial lawyer Pubudu Sachithanandan saying he had finished asking the witness to confirm the audio recordings and their accompanying transcripts, and he intended to pursue a different line of questions with the witness on Wednesday.