A prosecution witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he had nothing good to say about Dominic Ongwen, despite a defense lawyer asking him several times how he would describe Ongwen as a person.
Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead defense counsel, asked Witness P-379 on Monday to describe Ongwen. The witness was a member of a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) battalion Ongwen commanded, known as the Oka battalion.
Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some of the charges against him are for his alleged role in attacks on four camps for internally displaced people, namely Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi. The attacks took place between 2003 and 2004. Ongwen is also charged with forcibly marrying seven women and committing sexual crimes against them.
Monday began with Odongo asking Witness P-379, “What kind of person was Dominic Ongwen?”
“In my opinion Dominic Ongwen was somebody who committed atrocities. He ruined civilians’ properties. He also used civilians in a very bad manner, and that’s my opinion of Dominic,” replied the witness.
Several questions later, Odongo observed Witness P-379 had seen several commanders in the LRA. He asked the witness to compare Ongwen’s character to that of other commanders.
“You have to understand that personally there is nothing that I saw that was good in the bush. Nothing. Not even one thing,” the witness answered as a preamble.
He went on to say in the LRA one had to be careful what one said because even if people compared commanders in conversation, they may have ulterior motives for doing so.
“When you hear people talking sometimes they are trying to gauge your thoughts. They will say this person is talking in such a manner because he does not want to stay in the bush, and this will create problems for you,” said the witness.
“Mr. Witness, I can see that you are very angered by your staying in the bush. My question was about Ongwen as a person. Was he kind?”
“In my opinion, I cannot say he was kind. I did not see any kindness,” replied Witness P-379.
A little later Odongo asked the witness, “So Mr. Witness when you came to testify, your singular motive was to come and inform court about only bad things about Ongwen. Is that correct?”
“My reason for coming to this court was to testify and let the court know about my experiences, what I saw. To tell the truth and not to tell the court any lies, and that’s why I am here,” responded the witness.
Later Odongo asked the witness about General Salim Saleh, President Yoweri Museveni’s half-brother, and contacts Odongo said the general had with Ongwen. Odongo described Saleh as “revered in Uganda for being pro-people.”
Odongo asked the witness whether he heard, “Salim Saleh was trying to persuade Dominic Ongwen to leave the bush and that he had given him a mobile telephone? Did you get to know that?”
“No, but I do recall that someone received a mobile phone and gave it to Dominic Ongwen, but I don’t know whether it was Salim Saleh who gave him that mobile phone” replied the witness.
Contact between Saleh and Ongwen is a line of questioning the defense has pursued with Witness P-403, Witness P-440, and Witness P-205, but Witness P-379 is the first witness to say he knew Ongwen had a mobile phone.
Odongo followed up the question on the mobile phone with one about money.
“In any event, did you also get to know that around the same time Dominic Ongwen was given 10 million shillings [about USD $2,700 at current rates] by sources within the government?” asked Odongo.
“No. No, I do not know,” said the witness.
When Odongo persisted, Witness P-379 did say that the person he was assigned to be an escort to had money.
“I do not know anything about any money that the government gave. I do not know whether they gave money, but I do recall that at some point there was bag that Kidega gave me to carry. I do recall that at the time I was carrying a bag containing some money that Kidega gave me,” said the witness.
“According to your estimate was it a lot of money?” asked Odongo.
“According to my estimate that was a lot of money,” replied the witness, adding the bag was heavy. He said in case he was assigned to go on patrol or something else, “I would leave that bag with Kidega himself and nobody else.”
Odongo finished cross-examining the witness in the afternoon. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said a new witness, P-309, will begin testifying on Tuesday.