A survivor of a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attack on the Pajule camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Uganda described to the International Criminal Court (ICC) how Ugandan government soldiers allegedly tortured him for up to three weeks.
Dick Okot testified that he was abducted by the LRA during its attack on the Pajule camp 14 years ago. He later escaped the LRA, he said. He told the court that after he escaped, he spent as many as six weeks with different units of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). Some of those units tortured him, the witness claimed.
He testified about his experiences with the LRA and UPDF during the ICC trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander. Ongwen is being tried for his alleged role in the Pajule attack and other attacks on the Abok, Lukodi, and Odek IDP camps. He is also being tried for his alleged role in sex crimes and conscripting child soldiers. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
During testimony Okot gave between November 7 and November 8, both the prosecution and defense questioned him about his detention and alleged torture by members of the UPDF.
Responding to questions from prosecutor Kamran Choudhry on November 7, Okot said he escaped from the LRA on a rainy night. Okot said he and other LRA abductees were tied and slept as a group under a tarpaulin. He said he slept at one end and as it rained, untied himself and walked away.
He said the following day he met UPDF soldiers on patrol near a trading center called Ogonyo, and he surrendered to them. He told the court they took him to a primary school nearby where they let him rest in the classroom. Okot said that after he rested the soldiers kept asking him where he kept his gun. He said he told them he did not have one. They detained him that night, he testified.
Okot said the following day the soldiers told him they did not believe that he was a recently escaped abductee nor did they believe he did not have a gun.
“They started beating me. They tied my hands to my back just like the LRA did. Then they started beating me seriously,” Okot said.
Okot said he was later taken to the Lira barracks where he spent between two to three weeks with the UPDF. Okot told the court that during this time the Local Council Three (LC3) chairman of the Pajule area visited the Lira barracks and confirmed that Okot was on the list of people who had been abducted from the IDP camp. Okot said he met the leader and then the LC3 chairman left. According to the witness, the LC3 chairman’s visit did not change the view of the UPDF.
Upon cross-examination, Ongwen’s counsel Thomas Obhof asked the witness for details about what happened at the Lira barracks.
“They instructed me to lie down. They flogged me on my buttocks, on my back. I cannot estimate the number of canes I was given,” Okot said.
Okot said the soldiers continued to doubt he was an abductee and asked him many questions.
“I don’t remember what exactly I told them. I was in deep pain. I was just saying anything,” Okot told the court.
He stayed with 40 to 42 other people who were also detained by the UPDF at the Lira barracks, the witness testified. He said they all stayed in one dark, unventilated room in the ground. Okot said the UPDF treated the other detainees the same way they were treating him.
He said while they were in Lira barracks the soldiers told them that they would be taken to the military court in Gulu. However, he said they were never taken to military court. Instead, he and some others were released and were told they were free to go home, he said.
Obhof later questioned Okot about Ongwen. Obhof observed that Okot said he saw Ongwen as they walked away from Pajule after the October 10, 2003 attack on the IDP camp. He wondered why Okot did not mention Ongwen’s name when he was being beaten by UPDF soldiers, but he mentioned the names of other LRA commanders.
“Now, Mr. Witness when you were being tortured at the Ogonyo detach[ment] you would say anything in order to stop the torture. The names of the LRA leaders that you mentioned included Vincent Otti, Kenneth Banya, Tabuley. But you didn’t mention him [Dominic Ongwen]. Why is that Mr. Witness?” asked Obhof.
“That was because of the mistreatment of the UPDF. They were threatening me that, ‘If you do not mention any names,’ they would kill me,” answered Okot.
Several questions later, Obhof asked Okot about the time after he was released when he spent time together with other people who had escaped the LRA at a center managed by the Concerned Parents Association (CPA).
“Mr. Witness, is this the first place that you actually heard of Mr. Ongwen?” asked Obhof.
“I knew or came to learn about Dominic Ongwen on the day that I was abducted. At the CPA there were those who had been abducted who stated they came from him [Ongwen], others came from Raska Lukwiya, and others from other places,” answered Okot.
Before Okot testified, the Registry had appointed a legal adviser, David Josse, in anticipation that he may give self-incriminating evidence. However, on November 7, before Okot, whose witness number is P-067, began testifying, Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the chamber decided Okot did not need a legal adviser because his testimony was not going to be self-incriminating.
Okot concluded his testimony on November 8 and was followed by Witness P-396, who began testifying on the same day.