Witness Says He Was Happy When Ongwen Escaped the LRA

A prosecution witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) he was extremely happy when he heard news Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the court, had escaped the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Witness P-264 told the court on Wednesday that when he heard the news he, the witness, had by then also escaped from the LRA.

The witness told the court on Monday he had been a member of the Oka battalion, which was one of three battalions in Sinia brigade. Witness P-264 has said this week that at the time Ongwen was the brigade commander of Sinia.

Ongwen has been charged for his alleged role as a commander of the LRA in attacks on camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. The attacks took place between 2003 and 2004. The camps that were attacked were Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi. Ongwen has also been charged with 15 counts of sexual and gender-based crimes. In total he is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On Wednesday, Witness P-264 told the court someone called him to tell him that Ongwen had escaped from the LRA. Ongwen left the LRA in January 2015, surrendering to peacekeepers in the Central Africa Republic where some units of the LRA were based.

“Were you happy with the news of his escape?” asked Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, who was cross-examining the witness.

“Yes, I was extremely happy,” replied Witness P-264.

“And that was all because he was a very good commander to you?” continued Odongo.

“Precisely … When I heard that he left the bush I took time and came to Gulu [the main town in northern Uganda] with a number of other boys. We thought we would find him in Gulu but he wasn’t there,” said the witness.

Before Odongo asked Witness P-264 about his reaction to Ongwen’s escaping the LRA, Odongo questioned the witness about Ongwen’s character and decisions he made as a commander.

“Let us deal with matters of discipline. The ultimate punishment [in the LRA], of course, was death. Did you see Dominic Ongwen issuing orders for those who escaped [the LRA] to be killed?” asked Odongo.

“No, I did not see. I did not even hear about it,” replied Witness P-264.

Odongo then asked him how Ongwen treated those under his command. Witness P-264 said Ongwen usually spoke to those under his command through the chain of command.

He also said Ongwen gave “morale to the soldiers so that the soldiers are energized.”

Odongo then asked the witness to describe some of the commanders in Sinia brigade. The commanders Odongo asked about were Buk Abudema (who was brigade commander of Sinia before Ongwen), Ocan Laboingo, Okello Kalalang and someone called Odiambo. Laboingo was commander of the Siba battalion and Kalalang was the commander of the Terwanga battalion. Both Siba and Terwanga battalions were part of the Sinia brigade.

The first commander Witness P-264 was asked about was Ocan Laboingo. Odongo asked him whether Laboingo was “equally nice compared to Dominic Ongwen?”

“Ocan Laboingo was different. If somebody came and started talking to him, he could get angry. He was short-tempered. He liked fighting,” answered the witness.

“What kind of person was Kalalang?” asked Odongo.

“Kalalang did not relate well to people. He was constantly disturbing other people and looking for trouble,” Witness P-264 replied.

“Odiambo. What kind of person was he?” Odongo asked.

“It is very difficult for me to explain because I did not spend much time with him, but from what I heard he was extremely fierce,” said Witness P-264.

A little later Odongo asked the witness to describe the character of Abudema.

“Abudema, he was fierce, but he was a tattletale. Whenever he heard something he would run to tell [Joseph] Kony [the LRA leader],” the witness said.

Later Odongo asked Witness P-264 a series of questions about the attack on Odek that the witness testified about on Monday. Some of Odongo’s questions were about the terrain near Odek and the landmarks of Odek. He also questioned the witness about the role of Laboingo during and after the attack.

Odongo also questioned the witness about the link between Kony and Odek.

“Are you aware that this place called Odek is the birth place of Joseph Kony? Where his uncles were? Where his relatives were? Where the church, his original church was?” asked Odongo.

“I learnt about that after the operation. When we had finished the operation in Odek that is when I was informed that this is the birthplace of Kony,” replied Witness P-264.

Once Odongo concluded his questions on Odek, he closed his cross-examination of Witness P-264. Fabian Raimondo, the legal adviser to the witness, then informed the court that the witness wanted to address the chamber. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt allowed the witness to address the court.

“I came here as a witness, and I would like to inform the general public and everybody that I came here as a witness. There are certain questions that I heard, and the questions made me feel that I was the one responsible for accusing,” Ongwen, said the witness.

After Witness P-264 made his statement, the court adjourned until May 1.

Earlier this week, the prosecution filed assurances the Ugandan government gave about witness testimony at the ICC. The document states that witnesses would not be directly or indirectly prosecuted before the Ugandan courts for acts they testify about that they committed before they turned 18 years old. This assurance was made to the prosecution by Uganda’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Mike J. Chibita, in a letter dated March 22 this year. This letter is annexed to the prosecution’s submission dated April 3.

This filing gives more detail to Judge Schmitt’s statement on Monday about Uganda providing assurances similar to the one that Trial Chamber IX gave Witness P-264 that he would not be directly or indirectly prosecuted at the ICC for any testimony he gave that was self-incriminating.