A former member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) he and other abductees from the Odek camp for internally displaced people were each caned up to 100 times because another abductee escaped.
Witness P-252 told the court on Friday they were lucky because the LRA fighters who captured them during an attack on Odek in 2004 told them that if they caught the abductee who had escaped they would all be killed. The witness said the LRA fighters searched for the other abductee but did not find him.
The witness was testifying in the trial of a former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen, who has been charged for his alleged role in the attack on Odek and three other IDP camps, namely Abok, Lukodi, and Pajule. He has been charged with a total of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Friday, Witness P-252 said he had returned home from school and was helping his brothers thatch the roof of their home when they heard gunshots. The witness said he and two of his schoolmates entered the house and heard a woman outside tell her husband that the LRA had overpowered the government soldiers who protected the camp. The witness told the court one of his schoolmates said there was no reason for them to continue hiding and that they should run away.
Witness P-252 said they ran out of the house and eventually became separated. He said an LRA fighter saw him and told him to stop, but he didn’t. He said he ran through houses as the LRA fighter chased after him while shooting at him. He said when he could no longer evade the LRA fighter he stopped running. The witness told the court the LRA fighter tied him and continued to abduct other people. Witness P-252 said he would later come to know the fighter was called Onen Kamdulu and he would work under Kamdulu.
He said as Kamdulu abducted people he would warn them not to think of trying to escape. The witness said Kamdulu told them he would kill them if they did.
“He would open a house and just shoot at people to demonstrate that,” said the witness.
Witness P-252 is testifying under in-court protective measures that include his face being distorted in public broadcasts of the hearing. During his testimony in open court the witness is only referred to by pseudonym. Other protective measures include closing to the public any testimony he gives that may identify him.
The witness said the attack on Odek took place between five and six in the evening and it rained heavily. He said the LRA fighters assembled the people they had abducted and they trekked to a place called Lakim. He said some of the adults who had been abducted were made to carry the goods looted from the camp such as flour and cooking oil, while others were made to carry wounded LRA fighters.
Witness P-252 told the court that they did not stay long at Lakim, but traveled an additional two miles, at which point they stopped and gathered with other LRA fighters. He said the following day the older women and very young children who had been abducted were set free. Witness P-269 gave similar testimony on Tuesday about older abductees being released a day after the 2004 attack on Odek.
The witness told the court a commander called Odomi led the LRA group that abducted him. The prosecution and defense have agreed that Odomi is a name that Ongwen was known by in the LRA.
Witness P-252 said some time after they were abducted an abductee called Onek escaped at night. He said Onek made the bed of an LRA fighter called Tito, who served as an escort to Ongwen. The witness said his fellow abductees thought that when Onek finished preparing Tito’s bed he slept near Tito, but later Tito came to ask them where Onek was.
“We told him Onek has gone to bed. Tito became hostile. He said we children of Odek do not want to stay in the bush, we should be killed. He said if he finds Onek, any Odek child was not going to remain alive,” the witness said.
He said Tito returned just before dawn without Onek. The witness said he was undressed down to his underwear and his hands tied behind his back. He said he thought he and the other new abductees were going to be killed. He said someone decided they should not be killed and he does not know why they changed their minds. Instead, according to the witness, it was decided that “we should be beaten 100 strokes. I was beaten 80 strokes and I could not sit down.”.
Witness P-252 said that even though he was unable to do anything after the caning, he was still expected to fetch water or do anything else he was ordered to.
“It was my luck because Onek was never found,” Witness P-252 said.
The witness later described to the court how he was initiated into the LRA soon after his abduction. He said all the boys and girls had their shirts removed and an oil was smeared on them. He said the person who smeared the oil made a sign of the cross on his head, chest, and back. The witness said they were told that this oil would prevent them from escaping because if they did they would be confused and not know where to escape to and return to the LRA.
Witness P-252 said he received some training, which he described as practical and theoretical. He said he was taught how to dismantle and re-assemble a gun and how to clean it. He said he was also taught how to shoot a gun.
“You do not actually shoot because they do not want to waste bullets,” the witness told the court.
He said he took part in several ambushes of Ugandan military soldiers. He also told the court about two unsuccessful attacks on the Abok and Acet IDP camps. He said they were expected to commit “atrocities.”
“How were you feeling, you yourself, when you were asked to go and do these things?” asked trial lawyer Shkelzen Zeneli.
“For me, it was painful but I had become used to it. I didn’t mind. I didn’t care,” replied the witness.
Witness P-252 said, however, he was disturbed when he learned about the proposed attack on Acet.
“When I heard the name Acet I was afraid. I shivered a bit,” the witness told the court, explaining that Acet and Odek, where he said he was born, are close to each other.
Later in the day, Witness P-252 described beating an old man to death when he was ordered to do so. He said the old man was abducted because he was grazing his cattle near where the LRA group was encamped. He said he thought the old man was killed so that he did not give away their position.
“They wanted me to beat him until I cracked his head. So, I beat the old man in exactly the manner they wanted me to beat him,” the witness told the court, saying he beat the old man using what he described as a log as long as his arm that had been cut for the purpose.
“I was covered in blood and brains. When I stopped beating the man I had lost all strength,” Witness P-252 said.
After recounting what he did to the old man, Witness P-252 told the court that his parents “were very proud of me,” before he was abducted because he did well in school.
“I saw things in the bush and all those things have completely traumatized me. The things that I did in the bush have completely traumatized me,” the witness said.
Witness P-252 will continue testifying on Monday.