A woman who once fought for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that a female member of the rebel group could choose a husband only if she had been widowed.
Witness P-045 told the court on Wednesday that a widow was free to court whomever she wanted but her choice of partner still had to be approved by her LRA superior. She said this is how she got a second husband after her first one died in battle.
Several witnesses in the trial of a former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen have already testified that when the rebel group abducted girls, commanders allocated them to men and the girls had no choice in the matter. The witnesses have said the younger girls were assigned domestic chores, while the more mature ones were made wives.
Ongwen has been charged with eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that include forced marriage and sexual slavery. He has been charged for his alleged indirect role in these crimes. Separately, Ongwen has been charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity his for alleged direct role in sexual and gender-based crimes including forced marriage, forced pregnancy, and rape. In total, he has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Witness P-045 spoke about the choices afforded to widows when Abigail Bridgman, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, cross-examined her.
“Can you please tell us the different ways in the LRA…one would get married?” asked Bridgman.
“With respect to marriages, if your husband dies while you are in the bush…then you have an opportunity to court somebody you are interested in. But if you are not a widow or you have not yet lost your partner there is no way you can enter into courtship,” the witness replied.
“Without mentioning names, do you know of widows who went through the courtship process to get husbands?” continued Bridgman.
“That happened to me. It happened to me as well,” answered Witness P-045.
Bridgman asked the witness not to mention any names that could identify her because she is testifying under in-court measures to protect her identity. These include her face being distorted in public broadcasts of the hearing. One reason her identity is being protected from the public is that she is one of a small group of women who fought in the LRA. Witness P-045 has also been given assurances by the court that she will not be prosecuted directly or indirectly at the ICC for any self-incriminating evidence she may give. She also has a court-appointed legal adviser, Marc Wagemakers, to guide her whenever she is giving self-incriminating evidence. Any of her self-incriminating testimony is also closed to the public to protect her further.
“Was there a rule, for instance, for the mourning period and how soon you could pick a husband after one got killed?” asked Bridgman.
“If your husband dies you are given time. One month. Five months. Six months. You will be instructed to stay for that period without a husband. If you are in breach of that rule then you will be killed,” the witness said.
Several questions later, Bridgman asked Witness P-045 to whom a widow went to when she developed interest in a particular man.
“If you are interested in each other and there is a courtship then he sends word to the superiors,” the witness replied. “They will talk to you and advise you.”
“During this courtship period, before passing word to your superiors and getting their blessings, were you allowed to have sex?” asked Bridgman.
“No, that was not permissible. Once the two of you are interested in each other, word has to pass to the superiors before you can proceed as husband and wife,” said Witness P-045.
Earlier in her testimony, Witness P-045 told the court that when she was abducted by the LRA, the first brigade she was in was called Terka. She said she later joined Control Altar, which was the brigade from which LRA leader Joseph Kony operated.
Bridgman asked her about the time when Ongwen was also a member of Control Altar.
“He was not a part of Control Altar for long…. He was most times at Sinia [brigade],” the witness said.
“Do you know why Dominic Ongwen was at Control Altar?” asked Bridgman.
Witness P-045 said that, at times, commanders of other units in the LRA were sent to Control Altar as punishment, “but it would be difficult for you to inquire about that because if you do so you would be landing yourself into trouble.”
“So, you were not aware that Dominic Ongwen was a matter of fact in prison [while at Control Altar]. Is that correct?” Bridgman asked.
“Well, that I didn’t know,” the witness replied.
Earlier, Bridgman asked Witness P-045 whether she had ever seen Kony use a gun during the time she was a member of Control Altar.
“I think I never saw him holding a gun or firing a gun at any one point,” the witness replied.
“And just to clarify, even though he did not participate in the planned attacks, his orders were carried out by commanders? Correct?” asked Bridgman.
“The commanders to whom he issued orders would have to implement the orders. Short of that you would be in trouble,” the witness said.
Witness P-045 also told the court about her early days in the LRA when they trekked to Sudan, or what is now South Sudan, in 1993. She said they trekked intensively for four days before stopping to rest.
“All our feet were swollen. At times, we crawled because we could not walk. We did not have shoes,” said the witness, describing the intensive four-day walk.
She said that even with such pain none of them dared stop during those four days.
“They [the superiors] said anybody who did not walk would be killed,” Witness P-045 said.
She said that after resting for two days, they continued their trek and entered Sudan. She said they stopped in two places in Sudan for a week or so before they eventually settled in a place called Palotaka. It is in the south of present-day South Sudan.
Witness P-045 said that they moved into houses in Palotaka. She told the court they stayed there for a year, but moved northwest of Palotaka to a place called Aru after a cholera outbreak.
“You mentioned earlier you were fighting the Dinkas, but did you know why you were fighting them?” asked Bridgman. The Dinka are a dominant ethnic group in what was then southern Sudan.
“I do not know why we were fighting with them,” replied Witness P-045.
Earlier she had testified that her superiors in the LRA met with people she described as Arabs. At the time of the 1993 trek, the Sudanese government was fighting a secessionist rebellion in southern Sudan. That region would eventually obtain its independence in 2011 and become the Republic of South Sudan.
“Do you know who was residing in those houses before you moved in?” Bridgman asked, referring to the houses in Palotaka.
“It was the Dinka,” said the witness.
“Did you fight them and defeat them before you moved into their homes?” asked Bridgman.
“Yes, we did,” Witness P-045 answered.
Witness P-045 will continue testifying on Thursday.