Witness Tells Court Ongwen Was Once Punished for Disobeying LRA Leader

A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial for several war crimes and crimes against humanity, was once caned 200 times for defying an order given by the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony.

On January 25, Witness P-016 narrated what happened to Ongwen as an example of the punishment a member of the LRA received if they disobeyed an order given by Kony. The witness was answering questions from Ongwen’s lead defense lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, during cross-examination.

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 in the LRA. Other charges against Ongwen include forcibly marrying seven women when they were girls and committing sexual crimes against them.

It was towards the end of the day’s hearing that Odongo pursued a line of questioning about orders in the LRA.

“Mr. Witness, this will be a very repetitive question for you. Can you tell this honorable court whether it was possible to defy superior orders in the LRA and particularly when it came directly from Kony?” Odongo asked.

“You’ve spoken the truth. Who are you to disobey orders from above? Personally, I do not know of any orders that have been sent out, and they have been disobeyed,” the witness replied.

Odongo then asked him what would be the consequence for defying an order from Kony.

“If you fail to follow Kony’s instructions, you are jailed. That is what happens. That is what I know,” replied Witness P-016.

“Can you describe what this means, to be jailed?” asked Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt.

“You are arrested and detained. You are demoted. You are punished, you are beaten,” said the witness.

“If I recall what happened to Dominic [Ongwen] when he went away from the group, he was arrested. He was caned 200 strokes of the cane,” continued the witness. He did not elaborate what he meant by Ongwen going away from the group, and this line of questioning continued in private session.

Much of Wednesday’s hearing took place in private session because Witness P-016 is testifying under in-court protective measures, which include portions of his testimony being closed to the public. This happens in case what he tells the court can identify him. The public only knows the witness by his pseudonym, and his face is distorted in broadcasts to the public. He is not visible from the public gallery. A private session in the ICC means the audio to the public gallery is switched off even though those in the gallery can still see what the judges, lawyers, and court staff.

Earlier Odongo asked Witness P-016 who was responsible for issuing orders for attacks in the LRA.

“That’s a very easy question. You know for example in this courtroom we have a presiding judge, and all orders come from the presiding judge. In the bush it was Kony who gave orders. And if Kony was not there, then his deputy Otti would give orders,” said the witness.

The witness is a former radio operator with the LRA, and most instructions from the LRA’s top leadership were issued via two-way radio.

Odongo then asked him who gave the orders for the attacks on Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps.

Witness P-016 told the court it was Otti who issued the order to attack Lukodi camp. He said he heard this over the radio. He said he did not know who issued the orders to attack Pajule, Odek, and Abok camps because the orders were not transmitted through the radio he operated.

Odongo doubted the witness’ testimony.

“I was saying that except in the case of Lukodi, in all the others your radio happened not to be on. Is that correct?” asked Odongo.

“That is not true. There are other places that I heard calls sent,” answered the witness giving an example of another attack. “For Lukodi my radio was on, and I heard.”

Witness P-016 will continue testifying on Thursday.