A former long-serving member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) the group’s leader, Joseph Kony, may have deployed two senior members to keep an eye on Dominic Ongwen so that he would not escape the LRA.
Ray Apire made the observation on Wednesday, adding that something similar happened to him, as it did to senior LRA commanders. Apire said this while responding to questions that Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, asked him.
Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in attacks on camps for internally displaced people, sex crimes, and conscripting child soldiers.
On Wednesday, Obhof asked Apire about a telephone conversation with Ongwen that he testified about on Tuesday. Apire said during that 2006 telephone conversation he asked Ongwen to surrender, as the LRA and the Ugandan government were in peace talks.
“During your conversation with Mr. Ongwen, did Mr. Ongwen tell you that the peace process was going to work and he would be home soon anyway?” asked Obhof.
“I cannot recall everything that we discussed. I can recall something that he said is that he is afraid of the ICC,” replied Apire. In 2005, the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Ongwen, Kony, then LRA deputy leader Vincent Otti, and senior commanders Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odiambo.
“From your experience in the bush and what you know about the man, would Joseph Kony have been upset if Dominic (Ongwen) would have escaped during the peace talks?” asked Obhof.
“He would have been extremely, extremely aggrieved by it. He would have been very angry,” answered Apire.
Obhof then asked Apire whether he knew two senior members of the LRA called Lieutenant Colonel Acaya Doctor and Major Ajumani. Apire said he knew Acaya Doctor was in Kony’s household and Ajumani was a fighter. On Thursday last week, another of Ongwen’s lawyers, Abigail Bridgman, had said while questioning another witness that Acaya Doctor was the LRA director of operations and Ajumani was in charge of Kony’s security.
“Mr. Witness, during your time in the bush, did you come to know Joseph Kony was placing people in different places to spy [on others]?” asked Obhof.
“That would happen and I came to know of that,” replied Apire.
“Mr. Witness, after you spoke to Dominic [Ongwen] in 2006, did you hear Joseph Kony immediately dispatched Acaya Doctor and Ajumani to make sure he did not escape?” asked Obhof.
“It is possible that happened,” replied Apire, adding that something similar happened to him, though he did not elaborate.
“It happened to Sam Kolo. Even Otti Vincent went through the same,” continued Apire. Kolo at one time served as LRA’s spokesman.
Obhof also questioned Apire about how he escaped the LRA. Obhof asked him whether he and his wife had agreed on a code she would use to let him know, “it was safe for you to come home and that Joseph Kony was lying about what the UPDF [Uganda People’s Defence Forces] would do to returnees?”
“That’s correct, because we had an agreement. We had a password. When she went to the radio she said, ‘I have heard this person is okay,’ then I knew that there was nothing wrong,” said Apire. The radio he referred to was a private station, Mega FM.
Apire said they agreed on such a code when he released his wife before he escaped the LRA in 2004. He did not explain how he was able to release his wife from the LRA.
Later, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, questioned Apire about Kony and the spirits he said possessed him.
“We want to help this court to understand the impact of the knowledge that Kony had special spiritual attributes on the LRA soldiers. What impact did it have on the LRA soldiers?” asked Odongo.
“The issue about Kony possessing the holy spirt made people fear him a lot because the holy spirit is close to God,” replied Apire.
“You will feel weak. You will strictly adhere to what he [Kony] says. In the LRA people were forced to believe in God and God is everything. Everyone would talk about God and everyone believed in that way,” continued Apire.
A little later, Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt asked Apire whether his view of Kony and spirit possession remained the same during his time in the LRA or whether it changed.
“I would see the way he would speak to the people. His actions were not measuring with his words. That is why I started thinking differently,” answered Apire.
Odongo concluded cross-examining Apire and a new witness began testifying on Wednesday. John Lubwama, who testified via video link, as had Apire, told the court that he was the commander of the UPDF detachment that was guarding the Pajule IDP camp when it was attacked on October 10, 2003.
Trial lawyer Kamran Choudhry questioned Lubwama for about 30 minutes because Lubwama’s statement to prosecution investigators was admitted as evidence. A sketch of Pajule that Lubwama drew and two written reports he made about the Pajule attack are annexures to his statement and they were also admitted as evidence.
Lubwama’s statement and its annexes were admitted as evidence under Rule 68(3) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Under this provision of Rule 68, a witness’ previously recorded statement may be entered into evidence if the witness is in court agrees to it being submitted as evidence, and can be questioned by lawyers and judges in court.
Trial Chamber IX made the decision to admit Lubwama’s statement as evidence on November 18 last year. This decision concerns 38 witnesses including Lubwama whose witness number is P-047.
On Wednesday, Choudhry asked Lubwama to identify his statement, his signature, and initials on several pages of the statement and the annexes of the statement. He also asked Lubwama whether he accepted for his statement to be admitted into evidence. Once that was done, Choudhry then asked Lubwama what his role was at Pajule and what he saw after the attack.
Choudhry asked Lubwama about an Acholi chief called Rwot Oywak who was a resident of the Pajule camp and whether he was alleged to have collaborated with the LRA.
“It was said that members of the population were complaining because he was collaborating with the enemy,” answered Lubwama.
Lubwama said residents alleged Rwot Oywak had a satellite phone that they believed the LRA gave him. Lubwama said that one day the army arrested Rwot Oywak and questioned him for about an hour about the allegation. He said Rwot Oywak said he was given the phone by a mediation group made up of Acholi leaders that he was a member of and that was involved in negotiating peace between the LRA and the government.
In June, Rwot Oywak testified at the ICC and denied allegations that he collaborated with the LRA.
Orchlon Narantsetseg, a lawyer representing one group of victims in the trial, asked Lubwama what impact the attack on Pajule had on the residents of the camp.
“The members of the population were very much affected, particularly some people who had been abducted and some who lost their possessions. So, the impact was negative,” answered Lubwama.
Ongwen’s defense will cross-examine Lubwama on Thursday.