A former long-serving member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that sessions during which the LRA leader said he was possessed by spirits helped bind young members to the rebel group.
Witness P-070 told the court on Monday that LRA leader Joseph Kony told members of the rebel group about several spirits he said would possess him. He said whenever Kony knew this was going to happen he would call together all members of the group to witness it and hear what the spirit had to say.
The witness said when Kony was possessed by a spirit his eyes turned red and he would have a vacant look. He said other times Kony would have a fierce look. He also said Kony had a secretary record what he said when he was possessed.
Witness P-070 was testifying in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander. Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in attacks on four camps for internally displaced people that occurred between 2003 and 2004. The charges include allegations of sexual and gender-based crimes. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty.
On Monday, Thomas Obhof, a lawyer representing Ongwen, questioned Witness P-070 about Kony’s claims to being possessed by spirits, the names and functions of the spirits, and the effect these possessions had on the LRA.
Witness P-070 said, “while I was still young I believed in them, and yes they had a purpose for the rebels, but later I realized it was different.”
“And these actions, these possessions (of Joseph Kony by spirits) it makes a believer out of the young children and gives them confidence to stay in the bush?” asked Obhof.
“That is correct,” the witness said.
Witness P-070 said the spirits he knew about were called Who Are You, Juma Oris, and Jim Brickey. He told the court that Who Are You was the operational commander of the spirits.
“Most of the times he (Kony) would be possessed by Who Are You and he would order operations,” said the witness.
“The spirits also had different commands? The spirits themselves had specific offices too?” asked Obhof.
“Yes, that is correct,” replied the witness.
He said April 7 is commemorated in the LRA as the day the holy spirit bestowed on Kony, “the fighting power.”
Earlier on Monday, the witness told the court about his abduction by the LRA. He said at the time he was abducted, the LRA was known as the Holy Spirit Movement. Witness P-070 said the unit that abducted him was called the Special Mobile Force and when the group’s name changed to LRA, the Special Mobile Force was renamed the Stockree brigade.
Witness P-070 did not say in open court which year he was abducted but the LRA emerged in the late 1980s in northern Uganda.
He said that when he was abducted, the LRA took down his name, the name of his family, and the name of the village he was abducted from. He said the LRA did this so that if any one succeeded in escaping from the group, the LRA would attack their village and kill their family.
“There was a person I was with (when abducted) and the person escaped,” Witness P-070 said. He told the court the LRA went after that person’s family, killing them. “They burnt down all the houses. They took everything, the goats, the chickens.”
He said when he finally escaped from the LRA he feared the same thing would happen so he did not return to his village. The witness said he stayed in a town nearby and his family visited him there.
A new witness will testify on Tuesday.