A prosecution witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) she was abducted twice in the space of about four years by a group of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters led by Dominic Ongwen, something his lead lawyer cast doubt on.
Witness P-269 told the court on Tuesday her abductions included being taken away from her children during an April 2004 LRA attack on the Odek camp for internally displaced people (IDP). On Wednesday, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, questioned whether Ongwen could have led the attack on Odek because he had an alibi for that attack. Odongo also doubted whether during the first abduction of Witness P-269 she was given as a wife to one Ongwen’s troops. The lawyer said the man the witness alleged she was given to was never in Ongwen’s group.
Ongwen, a former LRA commander, is on trial for his alleged role in the attack on Odek. He has also been charged for his alleged involvement in attacks on three other IDP camps: Abok, Lukodi, and Pajule. He faces a total of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Tuesday, Witness P-269 told the court the first time she was abducted was either in 1999 or 2000, and she was with the LRA for about two years before escaping. She said she was made the wife of someone who was not named in open court, but his rank was given as a private. Witness P-269 said the LRA abducted her again in 2004, but that time she was released after a day.
During her testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday, Witness P-269 testified under in-court protective measures that included distorting her voice and face in public broadcasts of the proceedings. Whenever lawyers asked questions that could identify her, such questions and answers were closed to the public.
How the Witness was Abducted
On Tuesday, Witness P-269 said she had returned home from school when LRA fighters came to where she was staying and abducted her for the first time. In open court she did not name the place where the abduction occurred.
“Can you describe what the soldiers looked like?” asked trial lawyer Paul Bradfield.
“The soldiers were putting [on] boots. Some were putting on military uniforms, others did not. Some had tattered clothes. Some were wearing flipflops, others were barefooted,” answered the witness.
She said her mother and siblings were not abducted. The witness told the court that her siblings were “fairly young,” which is the reason she thinks they were not abducted.
Witness P-269 said the LRA fighters who attacked where she was living in 1999 or 2000 numbered between 90 and 100. She said she was made to carry flour as the LRA fighters led them away, and they walked to a place called Lakim.
She said at Lakim the LRA commanders had a meeting during which they decided to whom each abducted woman would be given. The witness said one of the commanders that she only named as Joe was the one who carried out that decision.
“Joe was sent to come to us, and he said if you have been appointed to a certain boy that boy would come and hold you by your hand, and that is how it is done,” Witness P-269 said, explaining how the abducted were divided.
When Bradfield asked her whether there was anyone who made the final decision concerning how the women would be assigned, Witness P-269 said it was the overall commander who did that.
“Who is the overall commander?” asked Bradfield.
“That was Dominic [Ongwen],” the witness said.
Witness P-269 told the court that she and her child and mother moved to the Odek IDP camp sometime in 2003.
“What was the reason that you and your family moved to Odek?” asked Bradfield.
The witness said they moved “because the government soldiers were saying that if we stayed back home then it is the civilians who are sustaining the rebels.”
She said that around five in the evening on April 29, 2004 she heard gunshots in the camp.
“I had a little cold then. I was actually lying down. Then I heard gunshots slightly at the edge of our home. And then another gunshot at the extreme edge of the camp,” the witness said. She said she hid in her house because the government soldiers guarding the camp had advised them that if there was any fighting they should not run. Witness P-269 said an LRA fighter entered her house and told her to get out and carry some of the food that had been looted. She said that when they tried to get out there was a lot of gunfire outside, so the LRA fighter told her to wait.
Witness P-269 said the LRA fighter decided at some point he would shoot his way out.
“He was actually firing his gun at that time he managed to open the way. When he fired, the government soldiers made way. He said, ‘Bullets will only get you when you have done something wrong’,” the witness said.
She said at this point her child and another child she was taking care of followed them, and they were crying.
“One soldier said I should leave these children because if they continue crying I will be killed … What they did is they just slapped the children and they [the children] remained behind, and we continued moving,” Witness P-269 said.
She said she and other abductees were made to carry bags of flour, maize, and beans, cooking oil, and some other items that were looted from Odek. The witness said they trekked to a pre-determined point where they stopped and rested for the night. Witness P-269 said that as they rested she saw Ongwen and was afraid he may see her and recognize her.
Witness P-269 said the following morning the LRA fighters told her and some of the older abductees that a decision had been made to kill them, and then they changed their mind to not kill them. She said they were ordered to walk away in a zigzag fashion so that government soldiers would not be able to follow them. When they failed to do that, they were called back, and she said eventually one LRA fighter was assigned to guide them as they left so that they did not leave any clear tracks.
“When we were released we went and found so many dead bodies littering the camp [Odek]. I found that my mother-in-law had been killed. She had been shot in her house together with her grandson. When people saw us returning, people thought that these were rebels returning,” and they began running away, the witness said.
Cross-Examination of Witness P-269
On Wednesday, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, challenged the account of Witness P-269 about what she saw when the LRA abducted her the first time.
“May I suggest to you Madam Witness that from the description of the event of distribution of wives and the people who are entitled to receive wives, there was no such a person as person one under Dominic Ongwen?” said Odongo.
“According to what I know person one was in that group. He was my husband,” replied the witness.
“May I also suggest to you that there was no commander under Dominic Ongwen ever called Joe?” continued Odongo.
“I know that there was a commander called Joe because I was in the bush. Maybe he was a very junior commander under him, but I know him as that,” answered the witness.
“And Madam Witness since you stayed there for two years, did you have a chance to learn any other name of this man called Joe?” asked Odongo.
“No, I did not find out his other name,” said Witness P-269.
During his cross-examination, Odongo asked Witness P-269 to describe Ongwen when she first saw him after being abducted by the LRA the first time. He asked her whether Ongwen walked with any distinct gait. She said he did not walk with a limp or any other distinct manner.
“Madam Witness, there are two propositions I want to make to you. Number one: That the person you described does not answer the description of Dominic Ongwen because at the time in question Dominic Ongwen was seriously injured and was distinctively limping and that has not changed up to now?” said Odongo.
“For me, what I can say is that when I was abducted Dominic Ongwen was not injured. When I was abducted the second time, I did not look on how he was walking,” Witness P-269 said.
“The second proposition Madam Witness, is that at the time in question Dominic Ongwen was domiciled in a place called Loyo Ajonga, and therefore he could not have been at Odek at that time [of the attack]. What do you say about that?” asked Odongo.
“I said I saw him. I saw him on the second day. On the second day, I saw him speaking to people. I was in the bush. I do know Dominic [Ongwen],” replied the witness.
Witness P-269 concluded her testimony on Wednesday. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the hearing will resume on Friday when Witness P-252 will begin testifying.