Witness Says LRA Leader Used Threat of ICC Prosecution to Scare Commanders From Leaving Him

A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), scared his commanders from defecting by using the threat of prosecution at the ICC.

Witness P-440 said Kony banned everyone in the LRA from listening to Mega FM because the radio station broadcast appeals to LRA members to leave the group in exchange for amnesty from the Ugandan government. The witness said this on February 3 in response to questions from a lawyer representing Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the ICC.

Ongwen, who was abducted as a teenager by the LRA, is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for multiple crimes he is alleged to have committed between July 1, 2002 and December 31, 2005. The charges against him include attacks on the Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. The attacks occurred between 2003 and 2004 when, the prosecution say, Ongwen was a battalion commander and then a brigade commander in the LRA.

Other charges that Ongwen is facing include forcibly marrying seven women, when they were girls, and committing sexual crimes against them.

On Friday, Ongwen’s lawyer, Chief Charles Taku, asked Witness P-440 about the measures Kony took to stop LRA members leaving the group.

“While you were still in the LRA, Joseph Kony used the threat of ICC prosecution to scare the commanders from defection. Is that correct, sir?” asked Taku.

“Yes, that is correct,” answered Witness P-440.

“Nevertheless, you were encouraged by the message and the promise of amnesty over Mega FM to defect. Is that correct?” continued Taku.

“That one is correct,” said the witness.

“At some point in time, sir, Joseph Kony banned the LRA combatants from listening to Mega FM. Is that correct, sir?” Taku asked.

“That happened,” the witness replied.

“And the reason he placed that ban was to dissuade LRA combatants from listening to that call to defect in exchange for amnesty. Would I be correct to say so?” said Taku.

“Yes that would be correct,” Witness P-440 replied.

“What would happen to a person who was found listening to this Mega FM in defiance of the order of Joseph Kony?” Taku asked.

“At the time he gave those orders, I did not see anybody who was arrested or punished, so I cannot explain,” replied the witness.

Taku then asked Witness P-440 about his first interview with investigators from the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor, which took place in 2004 while the witness was in the custody of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UDPF).

“At the time you were interrogated had you been granted amnesty by the government of Uganda?” Taku asked.

“Yes, I had already been given the amnesty certificate,” the witness told the court.

“Were you nevertheless afraid that although you had been given amnesty you could still be prosecuted by the ICC?” said Taku.

“Yes, I had that thinking,” replied the witness.

Taku later asked the witness whether he feared being prosecuted for any “wrongs” he may have committed while with the LRA. Witness P-440 said he was aware things can change, but for now he does not “have that much fear yet.”

Taku asked the witness about a number of LRA commanders that Taku said Kony had ordered to be killed. The commanders Taku asked about were Otti Lagoni and a number of others who were based in Sudan. The witness said he had heard about them being killed, but he did not why Kony gave such orders or who implemented his orders.

Witness P-440 was also asked about how he was initiated into the LRA. He said he was beaten. Taku then asked him whether he was forced to kill, but a lawyer representing Witness P-440 stood up to intervene at the same time that Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt stopped the witness from answering the question in open court. The witness gave his answer in private session.

This is the second witness to have a lawyer representing him in court. The first was Witness P-016. It has not been stated in open court what role these lawyers have, but because they do not ask questions it seems they are court-appointed lawyers whose role is to advise the witnesses on answering any questions that may be self-incriminating.

Taku concluded his questions for the witness during the second session of Friday. The prosecution did not re-examine the witness.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the court will take a break and resume hearings on February 27.