Former LRA Fighter Says Ongwen Did Not Plan Pajule Attack

A former fighter with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) testified that Dominic Ongwen could not have planned an attack on the Pajule camp for internally displaced people—an attack he has been charged with at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Witness P-045 told the court on Thursday that Ongwen was under arrest at Control Altar, the LRA’s high command, when the Pajule attack was planned. She said Ongwen was present when the Pajule attack was discussed at a meeting at Control Altar, but that others who took part in the meeting were more senior than Ongwen.

Ongwen faces 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the October 2003 attack on Pajule. He has been charged with a total of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in attacks on camps for internally displaced people, as well as for sexual crimes.

On Thursday, Witness P-045 told the court about a meeting to plan the Pajule attack; Witness P-045 was a fighter with Control Altar and saw the people present.

“During that meeting, which, according to your statement, was attended by very senior people in the LRA, could Dominic’s voice have been very significant in that plan to attack Pajule?” asked Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead lawyer.

“At that time, he could have a little voice, but when he is sent with soldiers then he has to obey the order. If he disobeys then he would be punished also,” replied Witness P-045.

“Madam Witness, in view of the fact that you say he (Dominic Ongwen) was at the Control Altar because he was under arrest, could he have been part of the planning for that attack?” asked Odongo, continuing his line of questioning.

“When you are under arrest you cannot be part of a plan. You will only be instructed to go to a particular place,” the witness answered.

Earlier, another lawyer representing Ongwen, Abigail Bridgman, asked Witness P-045 about the LRA’s policy on rape and her definition of rape, as Bridgman sought to clarify a statement the witness had given to prosecution investigators.

“Can you explain what your understanding of rape is?” Bridgman asked.

“It means sometimes that this person was given to a commander but she does not want that commander but that commander is forcing her,” the witness answered.

Witness P-045 said that the LRA did not tolerate rape as a matter of policy.

“When you rape a girl and that information leaks to senior commanders then you will be killed,” said the witness.

She said that commanders found to have raped someone were also punished.

The punishment “is really heavy and at times you may find it difficult to walk when that punishment is given,” Witness P-045 said without elaborating.

After Bridgman had asked several questions, Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt asked the witness, “What would happen to a wife if she refused to have sex with a man?”

“They will handle the issue within the household until she accepts. Today you have been handed over (to a man) so there is nothing else that can be done. So, you have to accept and live with it,” the witness replied.

“During the 12 years you spent in the LRA, do you recall a time when a man killed a woman he had been given because she refused to have sex with him?” asked Bridgman.

“I do not recall,” Witness P-045 answered.

“In your opinion, do you believe that the men thought they were raping the women or it was just a way of life in the bush?” Bridgman asked.

“Well, in my observation, I think it is dependent upon an individual who sees their condition, that they are far away from home and there is nothing they can do. So, they just submit to their condition,” the witness said.

Ongwen’s lawyers finished questioning Witness P-045 in the morning and she was released by the court. Witness P-070 then began testifying from the mid-morning session.

Witness P-070 told the court about the structure of the LRA as it was in 2003. Prosecution lawyer Colin Black also asked him about some of the senior officers in the LRA and what their positions and roles were in 2003.

He said the LRA’s high command was called Control Altar. He said Joseph Kony was the leader and his second in command in 2003 was Vincent Otti.

Witness P-070 said in 2003 a new military division was created called Jogoo. He said Jogoo Division was created because the ranks of the LRA had swelled. He told the court Jogoo Division supervised the brigades. The witness named the brigades as Sinia, Stockree, Gilva, and Trinkle. He said Sinia was the senior-most brigade and Trinkle provided security for Control Altar.

The witness said each brigade had three battalions but at one point each brigade had four battalions. He told the court that when the ranks of the LRA shrank, battalions were then reduced to three per brigade.

Witness P-070 said most LRA members moved back to Uganda from Sudan in 2002 because of Operation Iron Fist. The operation was an offensive carried out by the Ugandan military against the LRA in its bases in Sudan. Operation Iron Fist was launched after the Ugandan and Sudanese governments reached an agreement in 2002 to allow such a military offensive.

He said in 2003 Kony issued an order over radio to his commanders to go beyond the Acholi areas the LRA had operated in and further east into the Lango and Teso areas. Witness P-070 said Kony told the commanders there were no IDP camps in Lango and Teso, making it easier to abduct children to increase the ranks of the LRA.

“The LRA needs to show it is still strong and the war is real,” said the witness. He said this is what Kony said on radio to his commanders. Witness P-070 explained that he heard this because he was with the brigade commander of Stockree, Charles Tabuley, as the commander was listening to Kony’s orders.

Witness P-070 testified for a significant part of his testimony in private session. This is one of the in-court measures he was given to protect his identity from the public. The court also gave him assurances that any self-incriminating evidence he gave would not be used against him directly or indirectly at the ICC so long as he told the truth. Witness P-070 also has a court-appointed legal adviser, Arpad Bela Gyula Tivadar (Julius) von Bone, to guide him on any potentially self-incriminating testimony.

Witness P-070 will continue testifying on Friday.