A witness described to judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) some of the sexual violence she said she suffered after she was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) about 13 years ago. Between November 8th and 9th, Witness P-396 testified in the ICC’s trial of Dominic Ongwen about her time as a “wife” in the LRA.
Witness P-396 told the court that Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the ICC, forced her to become a “wife” to an LRA commander. She said that the commander raped her that same night.
Abigail Bridgman, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, doubted Witness P-396 could have met Ongwen because during the time she was in the LRA, Ongwen was not in the Lango area as the witness claimed. Bridgman said Ongwen was near the border with Sudan.
Ongwen has been charged with eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged indirect involvement in sex crimes, including forced marriage and sexual slavery. He has been charged with a further 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his direct role in sex crimes. In total, Ongwen faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the ICC, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Witness P-396 testified via video link from an undisclosed location. Her identify was concealed from the public through face distortion of the public broadcast of the hearing. Whenever her testimony could identify her, that portion of the hearing was closed to the public.
When Witness P-396 began her testimony on the afternoon of November 8, prosecutor Colleen Gilg took her through a process of identifying her statement, confirming that she told the truth as best as she could, and stating whether she objected to having her statement used as evidence in Ongwen’s trial. Witness P-396 said she did not object to the judges using her statement as evidence.
This process was necessary because Witness P-396 was testifying under Rule 68 of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Trial Chamber IX allowed the witness to testify under Rule 68(3) in a December 5, 2016 decision. For a witness to testify under this provision of Rule 68, the witness has to be in court, not object to his or her statement being used as evidence, and be available for questioning by lawyers and judges in court.
Once Gilg secured Witness P-396’s consent to having her statement used as evidence, she asked the witness some questions to clarify parts of her statement.
“In your statement you describe the moment when you said, ‘Dominic Ongwen came to me, held my hand and took me to one of his commanders and said ‘This is your husband’.’ Could you have said no?” asked Gilg.
“I could not refuse,” answered the witness.
“And why did you think you could not refuse? Can you tell us a little bit more about what you were thinking in that moment?” asked Gilg.
“I was fearing for my life, and I was also young at that time,” replied Witness P-396.
After Gilg finished her examination-in-chief, Jane Adong asked Witness P-396 questions. Adong is a lawyer representing one group of victims in the trial of Ongwen. Witness P-396 is also registered as a victim in this trial, making her a dual-status witness.
Adong asked Witness P-396 about her statement that she and several other girls were given as wives to several commanders a few weeks after her abduction in December 2004.
“You also state that the commander you were given to raped you the same night you were given to him. Did you sustain any injuries as a result of the rape?” asked Adong.
“Yes,” replied Witness P-396.
“Did the sexual violence continue after your injuries?” asked Adong.
“Yes, it continued,” answered the witness.
Adong asked the witness what she did to treat her injuries.
“I asked those [women] who were there who had stayed long. They told me I could use warm water,” the witness replied.
“Do you still suffer from the injuries?” asked Adong.
“I have some pain,” the witness answered.
Several questions later, Adong asked Witness P-396 whether her experience in the LRA has impacted her life since she returned home.
“Given your forced relationship, are you having problems entering into a relationship with a man?” asked Adong.
“Yes, there is a difficulty,” replied Witness P-396. “The difficulty is that when you are having a sexual intercourse you have pain.”
Bridgman was next in line to question Witness P-396. She asked the witness details about her time with the LRA, where they stayed, what training the witness received, which commanders and fighters she remembered and what their roles were.
Then Bridgman put a series of propositions to the witness.
“I also put it to you Madam Witness that during the period of your abduction and at least the first few months you testified about, Dominic Ongwen was near Sudan, and he was nowhere near the Lango region where you were abducted and stayed. What do you say about that?” asked Bridgman.
“I cannot deny that because at that time I was still young, and there were so many places we moved to,” answered Witness P-396.
“I also put it you Madam Witness that you did not meet Dominic Ongwen during the time you spent in the bush because some of the people you mention as his wife, Sarah, and a child called Aciro, were never in Dominic Ongwen’s household. What do you say to that?” asked Bridgman.
“I cannot respond to that,” replied the witness.
Bridgman also challenged Witness P-396 on her knowledge about Ongwen’s wives and children.
“Madam Witness, I put it you that your statement … where you say that you knew Aber and she had two children with her, one a baby that was breastfeeding and the other one a bit older, is not true because Aber did not have her first children until December 2005. What do you say to that?” asked Bridgman referring to a wife of Ongwen’s.
“Well, I have nothing to say to that,” answered the witness.
“Madam Witness, I put it to you that Fatuma could not have told you that she was a wife of Ongwen because she was not a wife until sometime in 2006 in Congo. What do you say to that?” asked Bridgman.
“I have nothing else to say because I have told you all that I know,” the witness replied.
Witness P-396 concluded her testimony on November 9, and the court adjourned until the following Monday, November 13.
Alan Robert French, an expert on enhancement of audio recordings, testified on November 13.