A witness narrated to the International Criminal Court (ICC) what happened in attacks on the Pajule and Odek camps for internally displaced people in northern Uganda, attacks which form part of the charges against Dominic Ongwen at the ICC.
Witness P-309 told the court on Tuesday that he was selected to take part in the raids carried out by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on Pajule and Odek. The witness also told the court that soon after he was abducted, he was assigned to serve as an escort to Ongwen.
The witness testified under protective in-court measures that include distortion of his voice and face in public broadcasts of the proceedings. He is also publicly identified by pseudonym. Witness P-309 is testifying with a lawyer, Sarah Kerwegi, present to advise him in case his testimony incriminates him.
The court heard a request Kerwegi made for Witness P-309 to be given assurances in case he gives self-incriminating evidence. The discussions on this request were closed to the public and Trial Chamber IX, which is overseeing the proceedings against Ongwen, did not announce whether it had accepted the request. To date, two witnesses who have testified before Trial Chamber IX have been given partial immunity from prosecution at the ICC for any testimony that was self-incriminating. These are Witness P-330 and Witness P-379.
Together with the attacks on Pajule and Odek, Ongwen is charged with attacks on two other camps for internally displaced people, Abok and Lukodi. He is also charged with forcibly marrying seven women and conscripting child soldiers. In total he faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Tuesday, Witness P-309 said fighters for several units of the LRA took part in the attack on Pajule. Before the fighters left to attack Pajule, the witness said the commanders of those units held a planning meeting on the eve of the attack. He told the court this meeting was held at a place called Wangduku. He said he remembered the meeting took place on the day Uganda marks Independence Day, which is October 9.
Witness P-309 said Vincent Otti, who was the deputy leader of the LRA at the time, was the senior most commander at that meeting. He said another commander he recognized at the meeting was Raska. He said he only knew him by one name. Witness P-309 said Ongwen also took part in the planning meeting. The witness explained that as an escort, among his responsibilities was to carry Ongwen’s stool, and he took it to where the meeting was taking place for Ongwen to sit on.
The witness said the meeting took place at Otti’s home, meaning where Otti had set up camp for that day. He told the court he sat some distance away from where the meeting took place, and he was able to see the commanders deliberating but he could not hear what was being said. Trial lawyer Kamran Choudhry had displayed in court a sketch Witness P-309 had drawn for prosecution investigators, and he explained to the court where the commanders’ meeting took place and where the different LRA units had set up camp that day.
Choudhry had another sketch displayed in court, this one being Witness P-309’s representation of the attack on Pajule. Using the sketch, the witness explained the direction the group he was in took to go and attack the military barracks in Pajule as other fighters attacked Pajule center where the IDP camp was located.
“We reached the barracks. We had an armed exchange with the government soldiers. We overpowered part of the barracks. We were not able to overpower the whole barracks,” said Witness P-309.
“How long were your group fighting at the barracks?” asked Choudhry.
“I cannot estimate the exact time. It could be anything between 40 and 50 minutes,” replied the witness.
He said they were then repulsed by the military, so his group retreated from the barracks and went towards the IDP camp. He said there he saw LRA fighters looting from civilians beans, flour, maize, sugar, and biscuits. He said he also saw people being abducted.
Witness P-309 told the court he was ordered by Ongwen to abduct two civilians in a house because they needed people to carry the loot. He said he entered their home, called them, and they obeyed and carried flour and beans.
Choudhry asked him whether they resisted.
“They were helpless. They did not refuse. They were shaking with fear. They were trembling, and they carried the luggage that I asked them to carry,” Witness P-309 said.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt asked him, “Why would they do that?”
“Because they feared that I could kill them or do worse things if they did not carry the food I asked them to carry,” the witness answered. Earlier he had told the court he went to Pajule armed with an AK 47.
Witness P-309 said that after attacking the IDP camp the LRA fighters returned to Wangduku.
“I don’t know exactly why we left but I think we left because we could not manage to successfully overrun the barracks. Also, the government sent a helicopter gunship, and it was hovering over us, so we left,” said the witness when he was asked why the LRA left Pajule.
Witness P-309 said the attack on Odek was carried out by fighters from the Sinia brigade alone. The Sinia brigade is where Ongwen was a commander. The witness said Ongwen is the one who decided to attack Odek.
“Dominic led a short prayer then he sprinkled water on us. The water was mixed with oil. That’s the blessing for us to go to fight. He told us that we were going to work,” said the witness.
“What do you understand by the word ‘work’?” asked Choudhry.
“When they tell us we are going to work, we know that we are going to fight somewhere,” replied the witness.
He said as they approached Odek, they split into three groups. The witness said the group he was in went to attack the IDP camp. He said when they got there, they found soldiers drinking and dancing with civilians. Earlier he had told the court the attack took place early in the evening.
Witness P-309 testified that he did not know who started the shooting, but the LRA fighters shot at the soldiers as the soldiers fired back. He said he saw five civilians fall, bleeding. He said he also saw LRA fighters looting clothes, shoes, cooking oil, and salt. He told the court that as they left Odek, he saw homes burning, but he did not know who set the homes on fire.
Witness P-309 will continue testifying on Wednesday.