A former intelligence officer of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the Ugandan government has not prosecuted four former LRA members who held the same or higher rank than Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the ICC.
Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s defense lawyers, asked Witness P-142 on Tuesday about the rank Kenneth Banya, Sam Kolo, Onen Kabule and Odongo Acellam held while they were in the LRA and whether they were free after leaving the rebel group. The witness said that he knew of only one of the four being imprisoned, but it was for crimes he committed after he left the LRA and not in relation to any actions he took while with the group.
None of the four are named in the arrest warrant the ICC issued in July 2005 for five LRA commanders, including Ongwen. The others named in that warrant are LRA leader, Joseph Kony; his one-time deputy, Vincent Otti; Okot Odhiambo; and Raska Lukwiya. The case against Lukwiya was terminated on July 11, 2007 after the ICC confirmed his death. The case against Odhiambo was terminated on September 7, 2015 after the court determined he had died.
After Ongwen surrendered in January 2015 in the Central African Republic and subsequently handed over to the custody of the ICC, his case was separated from that of Kony and Otti. He is charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ongwen surrendered in Central Africa Republic because the LRA moved there when peace talks with the Ugandan government reached a stalemate in 2008. Ongwen surrendered to Séléka rebels who then handed him over to American troops, who were there together with Uganda’s army hunting down the LRA. Both US and Ugandan troops have since pulled out of the Central African Republic.
On Tuesday, Obhof asked Witness P-142 whether he knew of a person and then asked the witness follow-up questions. Witness P-142 testified on Friday last week that he served as an intelligence officer with the LRA’s Sinia brigade. This is the brigade where Ongwen served as battalion and brigade commander during the time period of the charges against him.
“Who is Kenneth Banya?” asked Obhof.
“Kenneth Banya was a senior person in the LRA, but I am not very clear about his actual position in the LRA,” replied Witness P-142.
“He was more senior than Mr. Ongwen. Is that correct?” continued Obhof.
“That’s correct,” said the witness.
“He has benefited from the amnesty law in Uganda. Is that correct?” said Obhof.
“I am not aware of that. I am not sure whether he has been granted amnesty or not, but he is in Uganda,” the witness said.
When asked about Sam Kolo, Witness P-142 said Kolo was “also a senior person who was together with Kony. He is also in Uganda.” He said Kolo was more senior than Ongwen in the LRA.
“Are those persons, both Kenneth Banya and Sam Kolo, both free to move around Uganda?” asked Obhof.
“Those two individuals, the way I see, they are free. They are free to move around and do anything. They are not in incarceration,” said the witness.
Obhof asked him about Onen Kabule and the witness said he is also known as Onen Kamdulu. Witness P-142 said Kabule may have held the same rank as Ongwen, and he heard on radio that after leaving the LRA Kabule was accused of committing crimes.
“Even up to now I do not know whether he is still in prison,” Witness P-142 said.
Obhof asked him about Odongo Acellam, and the witness said he was an aide-de-camp [ADC] to Kony. He said Acellam had left the LRA and was now in Uganda.
“And he also is living free. Correct?” asked Obhof.
“Yes, he’s free,” said the witness.
“To the best of your knowledge, he [Acellam] was not prosecuted for anything he did within the bush?” continued Obhof.
“I am not aware of any accusations levied against him,” Witness P-142 replied.
“As the ADC to Joseph Kony, he would also be more senior to Mr. Ongwen when you left the bush?” said Obhof.
“At the time I left the bush he was more senior,” the witness said.
Earlier, Obhof asked Witness P-142 about his relationship with Ongwen. Obhof observed that when being questioned by trial lawyer Adesola Adeboyejo, Witness P-142 referred to Ongwen as a brother.
Obhof asked the witness whether he would “still consider him [Ongwen] or call him your friend if you met him today?”
“If I met him, well, he is still my boss. He’s also my friend. He’s my brother as well,” Witness P-142 said.
“Do you think Mr. Ongwen is a bad person?” asked Obhof.
“Well I cannot, I could not really, I am not in a position to say he is a good or a bad person,” the witness said.
Later on, Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead defense lawyer, asked the witness about Ongwen’s relationship with the members of his unit.
“When he was in the bush, what kind of character was Dominic Ongwen, according to you, and according to the perception of the soldiers under him?” asked Odongo.
Witness P-142 described Ongwen as “a people’s person.”
“He would talk to people and stay amongst them. He shared laughter and jokes. He was a person who cared about people. But that was when he was having a lower rank,” the witness observed.
He said that once Ongwen started climbing up the ranks of the LRA, he changed. He said Ongwen changed his behavior because he started having different responsibilities.
“Like for me, I would not go close to him,” Witness P-142 said.
“There was a gap between him and soldiers, but he was still good to his soldiers,” the witness continued.
He said when Ongwen worked in the operations room of Sinia brigade he was tough and strict.
Odongo also asked the witness about the relationship Ongwen had with Kony.
“There appeared to be jolts and jars between Dominic Ongwen and Joseph Kony. That he had problems from time to time with Joseph Kony and quite often he [Ongwen] found himself in jail. Can you describe to court the kind of relationship Dominic Ongwen had with Joseph Kony and maybe Vincent Otti when he was still alive?” asked Odongo. Otti has been reported dead since January 2008, but the ICC is yet to declare him dead.
“It is not easy to describe the relationship between those people. But Dominic and Kony did not have any problems when I was there. Even with Otti [Ongwen did not have any problems],” the witness said.
This was the last question for Witness P-142, who testified with a legal advisor present to guide him where his testimony may be self-incriminating. His legal advisor was Julius von Boné.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the next session of hearings will begin on May 29 with Witness P-314.