Witness Describes Being Under Heavy Fire During Attack on Abok IDP Camp

A former fighter with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) about his role in attacks on the Abok and Odek camps for internally displaced people (IDP) that occurred 13 years ago.

Witness P-054 told the court on Friday he took part in the attacks as a member of the LRA’s Sinia Brigade. He said Dominic Ongwen was the brigade commander of Sinia at the time of the attacks.

Ongwen is on trial for his alleged role in the attacks on the Abok and Odek IDP camps in 2004. He has also been charged for his alleged role in attacks on two other IDP camps, namely Lukodi and Pajule. He faces a total of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On Friday, Witness P-054 told the court he was part of the group that attacked the barracks at Abok and Odek. He said the reason the LRA fighters were told they were attacking Odek was to get food because their own food supply had been exhausted.

The witness said Ongwen led the group that attacked the Odek trading center to loot food. He said Ongwen is the one who ordered the attack on Abok.

Witness P-054 said during the attack on Abok, as the group he was with went to attack the barracks, they heard a lot of gunfire. He said they were soon surrounded by government soldiers and came under heavy fire as they retreated.

“There were a number of soldiers in front and some of them were behind,” Witness P-054 told the court. “The soldiers started firing at us. Gunships started firing at us.”

It is likely Witness P-054 gave more details of the attacks on Abok and Odek in private session, which is when his testimony was not heard by the public. Significant parts of his testimony on Friday took place in private session.

Witness P-054 is testifying under in-court protective measures that include his face being distorted in public broadcasts to hide his identity from the public. The measures also include the court hearing in private session any part of his testimony that can identify him.

At the start of Friday’s hearing Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the court had granted the witness assurances against self-incrimination. Judge Schmitt said this was in line with provisions of Rule 74 of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence.

The assurances included Witness P-054 not being pursued directly or indirectly for any actions he carried out and that he testified about that may fall under the court’s jurisdiction. Judge Schmitt said any self-incriminating testimony he gave would be in private session. The witness also had a court appointed lawyer, Iain Edwards, to advise him on any self-incriminating testimony he gave.

Trial lawyer Paul Bradfield also asked the witness about whether there were children in Sinia Brigade and what their role was. Witness P-054 said there were children, and they also took part in the attack on Odek. He said their role was to carry the looted food. He said some of them were as young as 10 years. The witness said that it was only in the Odek attack in which he saw children take an active part.

Bradfield asked him about the role of women in the LRA. The witness said those who were mature were made wives of the commanders, and the younger girls did domestic chores, like cooking and fetching water. Witness P-054 said women and girls also took part in the Odek attack, including a wife of Ongwen.

At the start of his testimony on Friday, Witness P-054 told the court he was abducted by the LRA in 1992 when he was nine years old. He said he was abducted by the Stockree Brigade, and he stayed with that brigade a short while before being transferred to Control Altar, the LRA headquarters. The witness said he eventually ended up in Sinia Brigade, and it is from this brigade that he escaped in 2005 having attained the rank of lieutenant.

After Bradfield finished his questions, the witness was questioned by Joseph Akwenyu Manoba, a lawyer representing one group of victims in the trial of Ongwen.

“How would you describe your experience in school before you were abducted?” asked Manoba.

“While I was at school life was good. I was a bright student. I was mostly first [in class]. At worst, I was the second in class,” the witness answered.

Witness P-054 will continue testifying on Monday.