A defense lawyer challenged a prosecution witness about his account of attacks on two towns in which the witness alleged Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), participated in.
On Thursday, Thomas Obhof questioned whether the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attacked the northern Ugandan town of Barogal or whether Ongwen took part in an attack on the town of Barrio as claimed by Witness P-309. The witness is a former LRA fighter who has testified he served as an escort to Ongwen during his time in the rebel group.
The attacks the witness told the court about are alleged to have taken place in northern Uganda, where the LRA fought government forces for close to two decades between 1987 and 2006.
Ongwen has been charged for his alleged role as a commander in the LRA for attacks on four camps for internally displaced people: Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi. He has also been charged with forcibly marrying seven women and committing sexual crimes against them. In total Ongwen is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Thursday, Obhof asked Witness P-309 about details of the attack on Barogal. He said he took part in the attack, but he could not remember when it happened. The witness said that as they approached Barogal, they split into three groups. He said one group lay in ambush at the edge of the town, another group went towards the military barracks, and the third group went towards a camp for internally displaced people.
“So the people who went to the barracks, can you explain to the court any special formations you followed when going to the barracks?” asked Obhof.
“We formed a semi-circle. If you compare with the headphones that we are wearing, it is about that shape,” replied the witness, referring to the headphones worn in court to hear the simultaneous interpretation provided at the ICC.
“Did Mr. Ongwen go to Barogal?” continued Obhof.
“Yes, he went,” answered Witness P-309.
Obhof then asked the witness whether it was his testimony that the LRA laid landmines to ambush the military’s armored vehicles, commonly referred to in Uganda as Mamba. He said yes. The witness told the court Ongwen had planned to burn down the homes in the IDP camp, but Mambas arrived before that could happen. Obhof then he asked Witness P-309 why he did not tell prosecution investigators these details when they interviewed him in 2015 and 2016.
“What we are discussing are events that took place long ago, and sometimes it just comes in a flash of memory. Sometimes I knew it, but I had forgotten,” was the response of Witness P-309.
Later in the day Obhof asked the witness about an attack on Barrio. The witness could not remember the date of the attack or how they began the attack on the town. Witness P-309, however, did say Ongwen took part in the attack.
“Mr. Witness, I put it to you that the two attacks on Barrio during your time at the LRA happened whilst Mr. Ongwen was in sick bay. What would you say to a statement like that?” said Obhof.
“I can say that Ongwen was not in the sick bay because he was physically present,” replied the witness.
“How many people were abducted from Barrio?” continued Obhof
“I don’t know the number of people,” replied the witness.
Earlier in the day Obhof questioned Witness P-309 about the time Ongwen was injured and had to be put in what in the LRA was called a sick bay. This is a camp where the wounded were taken. Each brigade in the LRA had such a camp that moved to avoid detection and capture by government soldiers.
Obhof asked the witness about any contacts Ongwen may have had with General Salim Saleh of the Ugandan military and a half-brother of President Yoweri Museveni. He also asked the witness whether Ongwen received a bag of money and uniforms from Saleh. Obhof asked the witness whether Ongwen had contact with other government officials. He also questioned the witness if he heard Ongwen; the deputy leader of the LRA, Vincent Otti; and another commander known as Nyieko Tolbert Yadin were trying to initiate peace talks with the government.
To all these questions, Witness P-309 answered he had not heard anything.
Witness P-309 continues his testimony on Friday.