ICC Hears Recordings of LRA Leader Announcing Promotions, Discussing Adverse Publicity

On Tuesday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) heard audio recordings of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in which LRA leader Joseph Kony announces promotions of his commanders and discusses adverse publicity. The recordings were made during the Ugandan army’s years-long interception of LRA radio communications.

Trial lawyer Julien Elderfield played selections of recordings and asked Witness P-003 to identify who he heard speaking and summarize what he heard. All communications between LRA commanders were in Acholi, which Witness P-003 understands and speaks in court. His testimony is translated by court interpreters.

Acholi is also understood by Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the ICC, and is the language in which many witnesses are expected to testify. Ongwen faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges against him include his alleged role as an LRA commander in attacks between 2003 and 2004 against the Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda.

Witness P-003, who is in the Ugandan army, told the court on Monday  that he had been intercepting and recording LRA radio communications since at least 2002. Elderfield was asking Witness P-003 about the recordings because of the latter’s work with the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, as the Ugandan army is officially known.

After Witness P-003 identified the people speaking and summarized what they said, Elderfield asked the witness to explain some of the corrections he made to transcripts of the recordings prepared by prosecution staff. Finally, after each recording, Elderfield would ask Witness P-003 whether the transcript reflected what he heard in the recordings played in court. During this process no dates were given for the recordings that were played in court.

In one of the snippets, Witness P-003 said he heard Ongwen report to Kony that he had attacked Odek and burnt everything. In a separate excerpt, Witness P-003 said Ongwen is heard giving more details about the attack to the then deputy LRA leader Vincent Otti. The witness said Ongwen is heard saying the civilian deaths in the attack are “uncountable.” He said Ongwen also reported killing some soldiers. The witness also said Ongwen described the ammunition he seized from the attack.

Witness P-003 told the court that in another recording Kony could be heard asking all commanders to be by their radios, and that each of them calls in to confirm they are present. The witness said that Kony then announced a total of 12 promotions, starting with himself. The witness said Kony promoted himself to general in that broadcast.

In another recording Witness P-003 said Kony is heard discussing with one of his commanders, Abudema, the adverse publicity the LRA has been getting.

“People are saying we are killing civilians but we are not the ones killing civilians,” Witness P-003 told the court, attributing the quote to Kony.

“We should kill civilians because civilians are supporting [Ugandan President Yoweri] Museveni. These days Museveni has given civilians guns to fight the LRA, which means we will not have time to leave civilians,” the witness quoted Abudema as saying.

Witness P-003 said a little later Kony is heard telling Abudema, “There are so many civilians, no matter how many you kill. No, you can’t finish the civilians.”

At the start of Tuesday’s hearing, Elderfield said he had forgotten to ask the witness about his rank the previous day. Elderfield asked him and the witness replied he is a warrant officer class I.

The defense will begin cross-examining Witness P-003 on Wednesday.