Girls and Women Have No Say in Anything in the LRA, Says Witness

A prosecution witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) girls and women who were abducted into the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had no say on who they stayed with in the LRA nor were they free to do whatever they wanted.

Witness P-264 told Trial Chamber IX on Tuesday that brigade commanders are the ones who usually determined where newly abducted girls went. He said the brigade commanders also decided to which leaders in their brigade would be given a girl as wife, if she was considered to be mature enough.

The witness was testifying in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander, who has been charged with abducting or ordering the abduction of girls and women and making them forced wives and sex slaves of his subordinates. Ongwen is also charged with forcibly marrying seven women and committing sexual crimes against them. In total Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On Tuesday, Witness P-264 told the court girls who were not wives were assigned to babysit children and carry bags. He said they would be assigned to the care of a specific commander. He said such girls were usually referred to as “ting ting.”

“Who would make the determination of whether a girl is old enough to be given as a wife?” asked trial lawyer Colin Black.

“Well, that is normally incumbent with the individual commanders with whom such people are staying,” replied Witness P-264.

Black followed up with other questions about the origin of the policy on how girls and women were treated in the LRA.

“Well, such a decision sometimes comes from Joseph Kony. But whenever he is far a decision can come from the commanding officer [of a battalion and] can also come from the brigade commander,” the witness said.

“Who determines which girls and women would be distributed and to whom they would be distributed?” asked Black.

“Well that normally comes from above, and when I say it comes from above, it comes from the commander of the brigade who has the mantle to say such and such girl should be given to such and such a commander,” the witness responded.

Black asked Witness P-264 whether the LRA had a rule on sex with ting tings.

“The rule was such that when a ting ting is assigned to somebody the person would be instructed to take care of the girl and not sleep with her,” replied the witness.

Black then asked the witness whether there were cases when the rule was broken. He said that happened. Witness P-264 said there was a high prevalence of syphilis in the LRA and at times the men infected the girls and that is how it became known they had had sex with the girls. He said in one case a commander who infected a girl with syphilis was just reprimanded, but in another case the commander was caned.

“Was it possible for a ting ting who had been infected with syphilis to stay in the LRA?” asked Black.

Witness P-264 said that not in all cases did the girls remain in the LRA.

“If she is given some injection and she gets cured she would stay. In instances where there was no improvement she would be released” the witness said.

Black then asked Witness P-264 questions about wives in the LRA.

“Did the women have any choice in whether they became wives or not?” Black asked.

“Whenever you are assigned to a husband you don’t have a choice of whether or not to have children or to stay with your husband. You just had to follow,” the witness replied.

“And was that woman allowed to do things for other men or not?” asked Black.

“Well, if in the line with cooking, yes she could cook. But for doing laundry and taking bathing water and having sex it was outlawed,” said Witness P-264.

“Was there any punishment for violation of these rules?” Black asked.

The witness said there was and it “could include lashes or even death.”

Later in the day, Witness P-264 was questioned by lawyers representing two groups of victims in the trial of Ongwen. Paolina Massidda, who represents one group of victims, asked the witness what happened to him when he finally got home after escaping from the LRA.

Witness P-264 said the elders conducted an ceremony that is part of Acholi customs. He told the court he was asked to step on an egg and then enter his parents’ main house. He said he was told to come out of the house, the elders sprinkled water on him and then told him to go back into the house. He said he did this four times and the ceremony ended.

“Why was this ritual performed?” Massidda asked.

“Well that was done because I had stayed for long away from home and they would say I was living in the dark. That was how the elders referred to that scenario,” replied the witness.

On Monday, Witness P-264 told the court how, soon after he had been abducted by the LRA, he was initiated into the group through a ritual the LRA referred to as anointing.

Earlier on Tuesday, Ongwen’s co-counsel, Charles Taku objected strongly to a line of questioning that a lawyer for another group of victims, Francisco Cox, was asking the witness. Cox had began asking Witness P-264 about adult abductees when Taku stood up to say Cox was eliciting evidence instead of asking the witness about the harm he had suffered.

Cox challenged the objection arguing that some of the victims he represents survived the attack on Odek that the witness had described on Monday. He also said the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had recognized that victims had a “right to truth.”

He argued further that the role of a victims’ lawyer was not merely to elicit information relevant to reparations proceedings otherwise, “there is no role for having us here until reparations.”

Taku said the line of questioning was not fair to his client. He insisted Cox was, “exercising a mandate that is not his.”

After hearing the different arguments, Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt adjourned the proceedings for lunch, characterizing this “a Solomonic solution.”

When the hearing resumed in the afternoon, Judge Schmitt said Trial Chamber IX had previously advised victims’ lawyers to be careful in their questioning of prosecution witnesses so that they do not become prosecution bis, meaning a second prosecutor, irrespective of whether the prosecution had asked certain questions or not.

Judge Schmitt also said that as much as the chamber had made such a caveat, “ life is not abstract.” He noted the prosecution had not asked follow up questions about adult abductees when the witness talked about them in his testimony. Judge Schmitt then advised Cox to ask the witness what he experienced or saw.

The day ended with Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, beginning to cross-examine Witness P-264. Odongo continues to question the witness on Wednesday.

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