Witness Tells Court LRA Leader Often Ordered and Then Stopped the Abduction of Civilians

A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, often directed his commanders to abduct civilians and then he would order they stop the abductions.

Witness P-440 said on February 1 that these orders were among the general orders Kony gave to his commanders over the radio. The witness became the second former LRA radio operator to testify in the trial of Dominic Ongwen. Witness P-440 began his testimony on Wednesday afternoon.

Ongwen is on trial on 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is charged for his alleged role in attacks that took place between 2003 and 2004 on the Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. At the time of those attacks he is alleged to have been a battalion commander and then promoted to brigade commander.

He is also charged with forcibly marrying seven women and committing sexual crimes against them.

On Wednesday, senior trial lawyer Benjamin Gumpert asked Witness P-440 about the general orders Kony gave to all his commanders concerning abductions.

“I don’t quite remember but since I was working on the radio sometimes he would order for abductions,” the witness said.

Gumpert then asked him whether Kony issued any other orders relating to abductions. The witness said he could not remember, but he could answer the question if he is reminded. It later emerged in court that Witness P-440 was interviewed by the Office of the Prosecutor 13 years ago.

To help the witness remember, Gumpert then asked the court whether he could show the witness the statement he made to prosecution investigators. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt allowed this, and the witness was shown a particular passage. Then Gumpert asked him again what other orders Kony gave on abductions. Witness P-440 said Kony sometimes ordered for the abductions to stop.

“What was it that would cause him to order abductions to stop?” asked Gumpert.

Witness P-440 said that Kony had called himself a prophet and “maybe he could have been given a message or sign that he should stop” abductions.

Earlier the witness explained that radio communication in the LRA became important after the group was forced to disperse throughout northern Uganda to evade attacks from the Ugandan military. He told the court this happened after the Ugandan military began Operation Iron Fist. During this operation, the LRA was dislodged from its bases in southern Sudan, across the border from northern Uganda. He said this military offensive took place between 2000 and 2002.

Witness P-440 said the LRA units often planned attacks with the aim of looting radios. He said the radios the LRA used were usually powered using solar energy and the equipment to generate solar energy was seized from hospitals and compounds of missionaries in northern Uganda.

Gumpert asked him what would happen if a radio broke down.

“Often when the radio developed problems that group affected should find a way of repairing the radios,” said the witness.

“Would there be any assistance outside the individual [LRA] groups?” asked Gumpert.

“No, there wouldn’t be any assistance from outside,” the witness replied.

Conclusion of Witness P-059’s Testimony

Wednesday began with Witness P-059 continuing to be cross-examined by Ongwen’s lead defense lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo.

Witness P-059, who started testifying last Friday, was asked about who was superior between Ongwen and Ocen Laboingo, another member of the unit Ongwen belonged to.

“In the LRA, Dominic [Ongwen] was superior to Laboingo, but the way LRA operates was different. You find that a senior commander could be a colonel, but the lieutenant colonel [a lower rank] could be superior,” Witness P-059 told the court.

An area of questioning Odongo explored was whether there were LRA members who Kony had watched closely and the reasons for this. Odongo asked the witness to answer keeping in mind what the witness had learned from people who had escaped the LRA that the witness had met.

How Witness P-059 met LRA escapees did not come up in the public segments of Wednesday’s hearing. It is possible this issue came up when the hearing was closed to the public. Some of the testimony of Witness P-059 was in private session in order to protect his identity from the public. It is publicly known that he is a member of the Ugandan intelligence agency, the Internal Security Organization, and he has been intercepting LRA radio communications since 2000, but other details about him remain confidential because he is testifying under in-court protective measures.

“Tell the court the kind of instances that would draw Kony to put surveillance on certain individuals,” said Odongo.

“Yesterday, I said that if Kony says let this person be guarded it means the person disobeyed Kony’s orders,” the witness answered.

Witness P-059 then added that those who had escaped the LRA had said they left the group, but it was not easy to do so.

“But people still escape,” the witness said. He added that LRA escapees said, “If you are not careful you could be killed along the way. These are some of the reports that we get.”

Later Odongo asked him whether there were civilians in northern Uganda who were not members of the LRA but supported the group.

“As a senior intelligence officer, did you come to know that Kony had collaborators within the population of northern Uganda and elsewhere?” asked Odongo.

“Yes, that is in our language. We referred to them as collaborators,” the witness answered.

A little later Odongo asked what these civilians did for the LRA.

“These are people who pick information or secrets about plans which are in the villages and take them to Kony. They are also the ones who point out the places where soldiers are. So they do so many things,” said the witness.

“Did these collaborators support Kony’s objectives or Kony’s war?” Odongo asked.

“When I talk about collaborators these are people who support Kony’s plan,” the witness replied.

Soon after these questions the Witness P-059 concluded his testimony before the ICC.

Witness P-440 will continue testifying on Thursday.