A survivor of the October 2003 attack on the Pajule camp for internally displaced people told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that during his time with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) no one told him Dominic Ongwen participated in the attack.
Witness P-081 told the court on Wednesday that he saw or heard about other LRA commanders who took part in the attack, such as then deputy LRA leader Vincent Otti, but did not see or hear about Ongwen taking part in the attack on Pajule.
Ongwen has been charged with 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the October 10, 2003 attack on Pajule. He has also been charged for his alleged role in attacks on three other camps for internally displaced people (IDP), sex crimes, and conscripting children. In total, he is facing 70 counts for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Wednesday, Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, cross-examined Witness P-081. The witness recounted what an LRA commander had told him about Ongwen.
Obhof began his line of questioning by asking Witness P-081 whether the commander to whom he answered, Acel Calo Apar, told him Sinia Brigade participated in the Pajule attack.
“No, he never told me that. I never heard it,” replied the witness.
Ongwen was a battalion commander and then brigade commander of Sinia between July 2002 and December 2005, which is the time period of the charges against him.
“Did Acel Calo Apar ever tell you which group Dominic Ongwen belonged to in the LRA?” asked Obhof.
“No. He never told me the group,” answered the witness.
Obhof questioned him about some details of the Pajule attack then returned to the subject of Ongwen’s involvement in the attack.
“Have you talked with anybody that stated that they left Pajule with Mr. Ongwen?” asked Obhof.
“The people I talked to never mentioned the name of Ongwen in the Pajule attack,” replied the witness.
Later, Obhof asked about LRA leader Kony’s order to only eat the food reserves they had, and to not attack civilians to get more food. Witness P-081 said this order lasted for about two weeks. It was unclear when the order was given.
“Did this order also include not abducting civilians?” asked Obhof.
“Yes, that was part of the order,” answered the witness.
“So even normal operations were halted? There was to be no fighting in those two weeks?” continued Obhof.
“Yes. Most times we were praying,” replied the witness.
Witness P-081 said that he knew of only one commander who disobeyed that order. He said that commander died during a battle with Ugandan army soldiers.
“Of all the people who were there he was the only one who was killed,” said Witness P-081.
Obhof asked, “Were you given reasons why the order came out? The reasons behind the order not to abduct anybody? The order not to take any food?”
“No. They did not explain to us the reason why,” replied the witness.
The testimony of Witness P-081 began on Wednesday with senior prosecution lawyer Benjamin Gumpert asking him to explain 12 clarifications he made to his March 2005 statement to prosecution investigators. Witness P-081 made these clarifications in July 2007. Most of that questioning took place in private sessions.
Gumpert then asked the witness to identify his March 2005 statement and whether he had any objections to it being used as evidence. Witness P-081 said he did not object.
Gumpert did this because Witness P-081 was testifying under a provision of Rule 68 of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The provision requires a witness to be present in court, identify their statement, and not object to it being introduced as evidence. The provision also requires the witness be in court so that judges and lawyers can question the witness.
The judges of Trial Chamber IX decided to allow Witness P-081 to testify under Rule 68(3) in a ruling made on December 5, 2016.
Witness P-081 testified via video link. His face was not visible to the public as part of the protective measures the chamber ordered for him. He was not referred to by name in court, and whenever he gave testimony that could identify him, that testimony was closed to the public.
The chamber also gave Witness P-081 assurances that he would not be pursued directly or indirectly at the ICC for any self-incriminating evidence he provided so long as he told the truth. Witness P-081 also had court-appointed legal adviser Sarah Kerwegi present to guide him whenever he gave self-incriminating evidence.
During his testimony on Wednesday, it emerged that when Witness P-081 was abducted during the Pajule attack he was a student at Pajule Technical School, where he was studying building. A lawyer for one group of victims in Ongwen’s trial, Paolina Massidda, asked Witness P-081 how the Pajule attack affected his family. He said he would begin with describing how it affected him. He said he was beaten with a machete during his time with the LRA.
“Up to date, I have the marks on my back. I am not able to perform the tasks I was able to do before that attack such as carrying bricks. With respect to my family, they were told I was killed and they were saddened,” said Witness P-081.
Massidda later asked him to describe the conditions he lived in while with the LRA.
Witness P-081 said his job was to carry injured people and wherever they settled LRA fighters would supply them with food.
“They would tell us this food has been collected from the camp,” he said, referring to IDP camps. “Other times, if we went back to the old [sick] bay locations, they would get food from the ground. They had buried food in the ground,” said the witness.
He testified that he and others who carried the injured slept on the ground at night. The witness said that the injured slept on mattresses that were carried for them and a tent was set up for them.
He said that after he left the LRA he eventually stopped attending group meetings of those who had been in the LRA because he did not want to remember his life with the LRA.
“I always keep away from things like that. I do not go to those things,” said the witness.
“It took me approximately five years and after five years I started forgetting. In 2008, things got better. That’s how long it took me,” he said.
Witness P-081 concluded his testimony on Wednesday. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said Witness P-256 would testify on Thursday.