A former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighter told the International Criminal Court (ICC) about his abduction by the battalion led by Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the court. He also discussed attacks on a barrack and town center that were directed by Ongwen.
Witness P-379, who began testifying on Friday, is doing so under in-court protective measures. One measure taken is that his face is distorted in broadcasts to the public either on the screens in the public gallery or the court’s live stream of the proceedings. He is also being identified by pseudonym and any information that may identify him during his testimony is given in private session.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said that Witness P-379 has also been granted partial immunity from prosecution at the ICC for any information he may give during his testimony that may incriminate him. A lawyer, Sarah Kerwegi, is also in court to advise him on his testimony that may be self-incriminating.
The witness is testifying in the trial of Ongwen who is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is charged for his alleged role in attacks on the Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps for people displaced from their homes by the conflict in northern Uganda. The attacks took place between 2003 and 2004. Ongwen is also facing charges of forcibly marrying seven women and committing sexual crimes against them.
On Friday, Witness P-379 described attacks on an army barracks in Lanyatido and the Pajule town center. He said Ongwen led both attacks. The witness also described an attack on a separate army barracks in Atanga but said that this was led by a commander called Odong Cowboy. For all the attacks the witness said it is Ongwen who ordered them as commander of the Oka battalion.
While questioning Witness P-379 about the attack in Lanyatido, trial lawyer Pubudu Sachithanandan named some individuals and asked who among them had a gun. The witness said not all of them did.
He explained that more experienced fighters would tell new abductees, “In the bush they don’t distribute guns, so if you see somebody who has been shot you can go get that gun.” He said that during attacks fighters also took gumboots from dead soldiers as well as their uniforms.
For each attack Witness P-379 testified about, Sachithanandan asked him whether before the attack they were given instructions to abduct people. When answering that question in relation to the attack on Pajule, the witness said they were told they “were going on mission to the [Pajule] center, but we were not told to abduct.”
“But we knew when you go on mission, abduction is part of the mission, and looting is part of the mission,” said Witness P-379. He said the LRA abducted young people between the ages of 10 to 25.
After Sachithanandan finished questioning the witness about the attack on Pajule, Chief Charles Taku, co-counsel for Ongwen, stood up to raise an objection. Taku said the defense had noted a number of prosecution witnesses had been asked about attacks in locations that are not part of the charges against Ongwen.
“We place objection and the court should take note of that. There have been persistent attempts to expand the charges in the case,” said Taku.
“The objection is completely unfounded,” Sachithanandan responded. He said the reason for asking witnesses about attacks in places other than those that have been charged was to show the context of the LRA attacks that they were systematic and widespread.
Judge Schmitt denied the objection but also affirmed that the charges are not being expanded.
At the beginning of the hearing on Friday, Witness P-379 described how the LRA abducted him. The parts of that testimony that could identify him were given in private session. In open court, he said he was abducted with others and estimated in total they were 150 people. He said quite a number of them were as young as 10 years old.
The witness said that the abductees were made to carry the loot the LRA got from the place they were taken from. He said older people were made to carry the more heavy loot, and younger people carried the lighter things. Witness P-379 said he carried a saucepan, shoes, and a radio.
Witness P-379 said a few days later a boy tried to escape but was caught. He told the court that they, the newly abducted people, were ordered to kill him. The witness described that an officer then said the new abductees should not kill him, and instead, the more seasoned LRA fighters should. He said the boy was killed as an example of what would happen to any of them if they tried to escape from the LRA. The witness said they were told to go and see the body to confirm that the boy was killed.
He said they were told, “When you reach there make sure you beat the dead body with a stick, and you must touch the body.”
Witness P-379 will continue testifying on Monday.