A former intelligence officer with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the Ugandan rebel group was trained by and shared bases with Sudan’s military in the 1990s.
Witness P-142 told the court on Monday that in 1994 or 1995 the Ugandan military attacked the LRA in the bases it shared with Sudan’s military in what used to be the southern part of Sudan. What was southern Sudan seceded from that country after a 2011 referendum to form the independent nation of South Sudan.
The witness testified about what happened in Sudan of the 1990s while responding to the questions of defense lawyer Thomas Obhof, who is representing Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander on trial at the ICC. Witness P-142’s testimony about what happened in Sudan as far back as 23 years ago does not fall into either the time period of the charges against Ongwen or the geographical area covered by those charges.
It is not immediately clear why Obhof asked a series of questions about the LRA and its link with the Sudanese government when they do not have any direct bearing on the charges against his client.
The time period of the charges against Ongwen start from July 1, 2002, which is when the founding law of the ICC, the Rome Statute, took effect. The charges extend to December 31, 2005. They only cover acts committed in the Pajule, Abok, Odek, and Lukodi camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. The conflict ended in 2006, and the IDP camps of Pajule, Abok, Odek, and Lukodi were in northern Uganda. Ongwen has been charged with a total of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“During your time in Sudan, Mr. Witness, did the government of Sudan, more specifically their troops, did they come and fight alongside the LRA?” asked Obhof.
“Yeah, we stay with these people together. Sometimes we plan for battles together and go to battle together,” replied the witness, who spoke in Acholi. Court interpreters simultaneously translate his testimony as he speaks.
Witness P-142 said that one time the Ugandan military attacked them at a base in Jabelen, where he and a group of LRA fighters were staying with Sudanese soldiers. He also said that another time they went together with Sudanese soldiers to attack a base, called 42, of the then rebel group, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). He explained that the base was called 42 because it was at the 42-kilometer point. Witness P-142 was not asked nor did he explain if the base was 42 kilometers from a particular place.
“And was the SPLA friendly to the LRA or to the Sudanese government?” asked Obhof.
Witness P-142 said the SPLA and LRA used to collaborate. “I do not know what happened … soiled the relationship between the LRA and the Dinka,” he said, referring to one of the dominant ethnic groups in the SPLA.
“Do you know if the SPLA was on good terms with the government of Uganda?” asked Obhof.
“From what we were told, the Dinkas and the Ugandan army [collaborated],” said the witness.
Earlier in the day, Obhof asked the witness about the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, and the spirits he is said to communicate with.
“Now Mr. Witness during your time in the LRA did you ever witness Joseph Kony talking to spirits?” asked Obhof.
“It’s difficult to know if Joseph Kony was talking to spirits. That’s what I heard, and that’s what I saw. We were told if you see him addressing the crowd with red eyes then he is possessed,” replied the witness.
A little later Obhof asked Witness P-142 about the language Kony spoke in when he looked possessed.
“When he [Kony] was possessed did he always speak in Acholi or in another language?” asked Obhof.
“Mostly, he would speak Acholi, sometimes in English,” said Witness P-142.
“Whilst he was possessed did anyone write down what Kony would say?” continued Obhof.
“Yes, he did have somebody who used to take notes and transcribe everything that he was saying,” replied the witness.
“Now from your knowledge did Kony remember what he said or did people have to tell him what he said while being possessed?” said Obhof.
“He would recall what he talked about,” said Witness P-142.
Obhof then questioned him about prayers that Kony organized while the LRA was based in Sudan.
“Did Kony have weekly prayers while you were in Sudan?” asked Obhof.
“Yes, there were prayers and sometimes when he organizes prayers, the prayers could be like weekly. The prayers could be any time. There was no specific time for prayers,” said the witness.
“Would everyone attend these prayers?” continued Obhof.
“When we were in the Sudan, if it was time for prayers it was required for everyone to attend. No one would miss,” replied Witness P-142.
Obhof then asked the witness to explain a word he had used in one of his answers, describing Kony as a lakwena, which is an Acholi word.
“I cannot explain what lakwena is. But from what he, Kony himself, said he is a lakwena. That is he is a messenger. Maybe because of something that he has in him, we don’t know,” said the witness.
Obhof followed up with a series of questions about spirits Kony is said to have spoken to and whether these spirits had specific qualities. Witness P-142 said he had heard about Mama Sili Silindi, Who Are You, Juma Oris, and Ing Chu. He said he did not know what messages these spirits conveyed through Kony.
Obhof asked him about Silver, Jim Brickey, and Bianca but the witness said he did not recall hearing about these spirits Kony is said to have spoken to.
Significant parts of Monday’s hearing were held in private session, meaning what was asked and answered was not open to the public. This was in line with the in-court protective measures granted to the witness to keep him from being identified by members of the public.
Witness P-142 will continue testifying on Tuesday.