Witness: Ongwen Distributed Abducted Girls to LRA Leaders

A former intelligence officer in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group has told International Criminal Court (ICC) judges that war crimes accused Dominic Ongwen was in charge of “distributing” abducted girls and women to senior fighters in his brigade.

Testifying under the pseudonym Witness P-142, the former fighter said once girls and women were abducted, they did not stay with low-ranking fighters but were instead taken to the commander of a brigade. It was the commander’s responsibility to assign the abductees as wives to senior members of his brigade after receiving the blessing of the LRA leader Joseph Kony.

“No ordinary person was allowed to stay with these [abductees],” said Witness P-142. “It was the senior commanders to decide what to do with them.”

Witness P-142 testified that he served as an intelligence officer in the LRA’s Sinia Brigade that was headed by Ongwen, who is currently on trial at the ICC for 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The witness said that in Sinia Brigade, it was Ongwen’s responsibility to assign abducted females to the fighters.

Asked by the prosecuting lawyer what happened to fighters who declined to take the females assigned to them as wives, he replied, “Apart from serious beating to near death, sometimes you’re beaten to death.”

The witness estimated that Sinia Brigade had 250 to 300 male fighters and 130 to 150 women and girls. “There’s no single woman who voluntarily joined; all were abducted,” he added. According to the witness, some of the girls in the camp were as young as 14 years old.

Witness P-142 said Ongwen had four or five wives but did not say in open court whether any of them had been abducted.

Ongwen is on trial for his alleged role in attacks that took place between 2003 and 2004 on the Pajule, Odek, Abok, and Lukodi camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. Witness P-142 also testified about those attacks, recalling that once the LRA fighters returned from attacking the camps, Ongwen asked them whether they had killed civilians. When they replied that they had not found any civilians, “Ongwen was not happy we did not kill.”

“I was not happy hearing him talking the way he was because he was talking about my people,” said the witness. He added that, at a briefing before the soldiers went to attack Lukodi, Ongwen instructed them to kill any civilians they met. He also testified that Ongwen gave orders for the attacks on Odek and Lukodi.

The witness recalled the tough punishments fighters were subjected to for disobeying superiors’ orders. These included severe flogging and death by firing squad. However, according to him, although there were several offenses for which an LRA fighter could be sentenced to death, shooting a civilian was not one of them: “Nobody would see it as a crime if a civilian was injured or shot at. Nobody would say anything about it.”

Witness P-142 was abducted and conscripted into the LRA at the age of 14, and he was shortly thereafter severely flogged when the rebels suspected that he planned to escape. The witness said after he received basic military training at the LRA bases at Palotaka and Jabelen in the south of Sudan, he was taken to Juba, also in the then Sudan, for a month’s training in gathering intelligence.

Witness P-142 was granted protective measures in order to keep his identity secret and was given assurances by judges against self-incrimination during the course of his testimony. He continues his testimony on Monday next week.