A former fighter with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) he was the victim of an LRA attack on a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) where he was living just months after escaping from the group.
Witness P-379 narrated to the court on Monday how he and other internally displaced people were attacked in October 2003 by the Oka battalion of the LRA, the same battalion he had been a member of and escaped from in August 2003.
The attack on Pajule the witness testified about forms part of the charges against Dominic Ongwen at the ICC. Ongwen has also been charged for his alleged role in attacks on three other IDP camps: Odek, Abok, and Lukodi. He is charged with forcibly marrying seven women and committing sexual crimes against them. In total, Ongwen is on trial for 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Monday, Witness P-379 said the attack on Pajule occurred on October 10, 2003. He said he remembered the date because the attack took place a day after Uganda’s Independence Day.
“I was sleeping in the house with my uncle who at one point [before October 2003] was abducted together with the son of my aunty. Around 5:00 AM we started hearing gunshots. I wanted to open the door and run away because I knew this was by all means … an attack,” the witness told the court.
He said his uncle stopped him. The witness said his uncle then blocked the door to the house with sacks to prevent LRA fighters from getting in.
“Then at some point when the gunfire was too much,” the witness said his uncle tried to run away but that his uncle did not go far before realizing he could not run away and returned to the house.
Witness P-379 said that 30 minutes after the attack started, “I got out of the house and started running, and I returned back to the compound where we had slept. I didn’t know what to do. Then my aunty started shouting at me why I did not run inside. Instead I squatted on the side of the door.”
He said as he did that, two LRA fighters ran past the house without seeing him. The witness said they were followed by another LRA fighter who was pulling a girl by the hand. He said this fighter stopped, and they recognized each other. He said he recognized the fighter as Okello Tango because they had been in Oka battalion together.
“Then he aimed at me with his gun. He said, ‘If you run I am going to shoot,’” the witness told the court. Witness P-379 said the girl was trying to break away from Okello Tango.
“As he tried to come towards me, she pulled away,” said the witness, adding he took advantage of the confusion and ran away. “I ran behind the house and went behind the toilet and ran away. When I reached the center [of Pajule] I found there were several [government] soldiers.”
“The gunfire continued at that time, then the helicopter gunship came. That was coming close to 8 AM,” continued the witness.
As the helicopter gunship approached the Pajule camp, the witness said, “I could hear the rebels saying all the houses should be burnt so that they can be shielded by the smoke from the helicopter gunship.”
Witness P-379 said the gunship started firing at and bombing the area. He said another unit of government soldiers came from a different direction, and they repulsed the LRA fighters from the camp.
Trial lawyer Pubudu Sachithanandan then asked the witness to describe what he saw when he returned to the camp from his hiding place.
“You would hear people crying in every corner. Some people whose people were abducted. Some people whose people were killed. Achiro Agnes [someone the witness knew] was shot just near the home in a sorghum garden, and there were other people who were captured. Myself, my brother was captured. My uncle’s daughter was captured,” the witness said.
Sachithanandan then got a map of Pajule the witness had drawn for prosecution investigators displayed on the computer screens in the courtroom. Witness P-379 then showed the court the places he had talked about in his testimony. The map was not broadcast to the public.
Witness P-379 also told the court about how Ongwen could order punishment for anything he considered an offense. The witness said that one of the girls who stayed with Ongwen called Abwot was found to have defecated near a water point. He said Ongwen ordered Abwot should be caned, and those caning her could hit any part of her body, except her head. The witness said Abwot was made to lay face down and several LRA fighters caned her with stick. He said each fighter caned her 10 strokes. He said the caning was so severe that it took Abwot several days to recuperate.
Witness will be questioned by lawyers for victims on Tuesday.