A former servant in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) described to the International Criminal Court (ICC) being raped by an LRA fighter at the age of 13 and her duties as a babysitter.
Witness P-352 told the court on Monday that as a babysitter she was expected to carry the child she was assigned to care for whenever the unit changed location or run, carrying the child, if the unit came under attack. She said she and other girls who worked as servants were commonly referred to as ting ting in the LRA.
The witness said soon after she was abducted by the LRA she served for four to five months in what she called the household of Buk. This is the first name of a commander of LRA’s Sinia brigade whose full name is given in prosecution documents as Buk Abudema. He was senior in rank to Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the ICC. Witness P-352 told the court that after serving in Abudema’s household, she was assigned to Ongwen’s household.
Witness P-352 was testifying in Ongwen’s trial, which resumed on Monday after almost a month’s break. The last trial hearing was held on April 5. Witness P-352 is testifying via video link from an unidentified location and is under in-court protective measures, which include being identified in open court by pseudonym. In public broadcasts of the hearing, the face of the witness is distorted to further prevent her being identified in public. Also, any testimony she gives that may identify her is closed to the public.
On Monday, trial lawyer Shkelzen Zeneli spent about only two hours leading Witness P-352 in her examination-in-chief because the court allowed her statement to prosecution investigators to be entered as evidence and be considered as her testimony in court.
Ongwen is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that include his alleged role, directly and indirectly, between 2003 and 2004, in attacks on four camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. The charges against him also include his alleged direct or indirect role in sexual crimes.
During her testimony on Monday, Witness P-352 described being raped by someone who was identified in open court as person number one. She said she initially refused to have sex with him, but he threatened her several times, asking her, “What do you choose, life or death?” She said after that she became his wife.
“Why did person number one make you his wife?” asked Zeneli.
“I don’t know. Because I was powerless,” replied Witness P-352.
“Did he have to take any one’s permission for that?” Zeneli asked.
“He came from Odomi’s household and came and did that act on me,” said the witness. Odomi is another name Ongwen was known by. This is one of the facts of the case that the defense and the prosecution have agreed on.
“How old were you at that time, if you recall?” asked Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt, referring to the time she was raped.
“At that time, I was 13 years old,” replied Witness P-352.
“Did this happen afterwards too?” continued Judge Schmitt.
“Yes, it continued because I was his wife until I escaped,” answered the witness.
The decision to have Witness P-352’s statement to prosecution investigators to be taken as her testimony in court was made on December 6 last year when Trial Chamber IX allowed the prosecution to introduce into evidence the previously recorded testimony of 14 of its witnesses. The chamber made the decision following an application by the prosecution, which was based on Rule 68(3) of the ICC’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence.
This provision allows for the statement of a witness to be admitted as evidence and that statement to be taken as the testimony of the witness. This provision only applies if the witness is in court, accepts that the statement to be admitted into evidence as their testimony, and all lawyers and the judges are able to question the witness.
Trial Chamber IX accepted the prosecution’s application, saying this would reduce the time the prosecution would use to question the witnesses. The prosecution estimated in its application it could save about 50 hours of questioning.
The chamber, however, said the defense would be allocated more time than the prosecution to question each witness covered in the December 6 decision. The judges explained that this was to ensure the fair trial rights of Ongwen.
In the case of Witness P-352, trial lawyer Shkelzen Zeneli asked the witness to identify her initials on some of the pages of her statement to confirm that it was her statement. Once that was done, Zeneli asked the witness whether she adopted the statement to be her testimony in court.
“Yes, I do agree,” said Witness P-352.
After Zeneli finished questioning her, a lawyer for one group of victims, Jane Adong, asked Witness P-352 some questions.
Adong asked her about her rape. Witness P-352 told the court person number one had a gun when he attacked her.
“Did you sustain any injuries as a result of the rape?” Adong asked.
“Yes, I did,” replied the witness.
“Can you describe briefly what injuries?” Adong asked further.
“Yes I can. If a grown man has sexual intercourse with you, you definitely have problems subsequently,” answered Witness P-352. She explained further that the man “might tear you.”
She said that after escaping the LRA, she has not gone to hospital “because I do not have the resources to pay for treatment.”
“Have you tried returning to school?” Adong asked a little later.
“I tried, but I was only there for two terms. My parents died, and I took over guardianship for my siblings,” Witness P-352 replied.
Adong then asked her what assistance she expected from the court.
“I would like the court to help me so that I can continue sustaining myself, my life, and the children that I have,” the witness said.
Charles Taku, one of Ongwen’s defense lawyers, began questioning Witness P-352 in the afternoon and will continue doing so on Tuesday.