Witness Testifies to Being Made a “Wife” in the LRA When She was 13

A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the court, made her a “wife” of a commander when she was about 13 years old, and she feared she would be killed if she refused.

Witness P-351 told the court on November 14 Ongwen made her a “wife” about a year after the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abducted her from her village in December 2002.

The witness did not state she was 13 years old at the time, but when Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, questioned Witness P-351 it emerged she was 12 years old when she was abducted. The commander she was given to was not named in open court in order to protect her identity.

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 has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

On November 14, prosecutor Shkelzen Zeneli asked Witness P-351 some questions to clarify the part of her statement to prosecution investigators where she spoke about how she was made a “wife” to an LRA commander.

Zeneli said that in her statement Witness P-351 described how one of Ongwen’s escorts went to her and told her the commanders wanted to see her. Zeneli said in her witness statement she said Ongwen was seated with the other commanders and told her that she was now the “wife” of one of them.

“Could you have said no to Odomi when he told you that?” asked Zeneli, using one of the names Ongwen was commonly known by in the LRA.

“I couldn’t say no because in the bush, the life in the bush, was such that you did not have authority to object to what you were told,” replied Witness P-351.

“What would have happened if you objected to Odomi?” asked Zeneli.

“I feared they would kill me,” answered the witness.

Before Zeneli started questioning Witness P-351, he asked her to identify her statement and her national identity card. She confirmed the statement before her and the copy of an identity card were hers. Zeneli then asked her whether she had any objection to them being used as evidence in the trial. Witness P-351 said she did not object.

Zeneli took her through these steps because she was testifying under Rule 68(3) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Under this provision, a witness has to state that he or she does not object to their statement being used as evidence in a trial. The witness is also required to be in court and be available for questioning by lawyers and judges. In the case of Witness P-351 she testified via video link from an undisclosed location. Trial Chamber IX allowed the witness to testify under Rule 68(3) in a December 5, 2016 decision. She is the tenth witness to testify in the trial of Ongwen under this provision.

Among the questions Zeneli asked Witness P-351 after taking her through the requirements of Rule 68(3) was about her life once she escaped the LRA.

Zeneli asked her what the impact had been of her “experience as a forced wife.”

“The changes in my life were that I was still young, and I was not ready to become a wife. I went through a lot of pain, especially when I was having intercourse with him,” answered the witness.

When it was Odongo’s turn to cross-examine Witness P-351 he asked whether she remembered who was responsible for her abduction. She said she was abducted by a group led by Raska Lukwiya. Odongo then asked when she first met Ongwen. She said she met him three months after her abduction.

Odongo asked her to name the group Ongwen led that she said she was relocated to. Witness P-351 said it was called Sinia. Odongo asked her to name the battalions that formed Sinia brigade. She said she could not remember them, but when Odongo prompted her she confirmed she had heard the names Oka, Terwanga, and Siba.

After several other questions, Odongo challenged Witness P-351 on whether she could have met Ongwen.

“Madam Witness, I want to make a few propositions to you. Would it surprise you to know at the time of your abduction the person you allege you were given to as your husband was actually not in Oka battalion. He was in the Control Altar [LRA’s high command] and not in any way related to Dominic Ongwen at that time. And therefore, it was not possible for Dominic Ongwen to attribute you to him as his wife. What do you say about that?” asked Odongo.

“There is nothing much I can say about that,” answered the witness.

“Madam Witness, since you were abducted in December [2002], would you be surprised if you are told that as a matter of fact Dominic Ongwen had been injured in September of that year, and by the time you were abducted he was already in the sick bay. Would that surprise you?”

“It’s difficult for me to know that,” replied the witness.

“And Madam Witness, if you got to know that as matter of fact Dominic Ongwen was in Control Altar from December 2002 to February 2004, would that help you to change your mind about the positions that you attributed to him?” asked Odongo.

“I could say that is correct,” replied the witness.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt then interjected and asked Witness P-351 whether she knew what Control Altar was.

“Yes. According to what I know that was a particular group,” she answered.

Odongo then revisited his proposition about Ongwen’s injury.

“I want to put it to you that Dominic Ongwen, because of the gravity of the injury he sustained, was in the sick bay up to 2003. What do you say about that?” asked Odongo.

“That is then correct,” the witness replied.

“Madam Witness, in that case would that still support your testimony that when you were abducted you met Dominic Ongwen within a short time after the abduction? Alternatively put, can you estimate to court what length of time it took between your abduction and the time you first met Dominic Ongwen?” asked Odongo.

“It was approximately three months,” answered Witness P-351.

Odongo then asked her whether she met Ongwen while he was in the sick bay or somewhere else. She said they first met outside the sick bay, and Ongwen’s group moved about before he got injured. Witness P-351 said he got injured about eight months after she was abducted.

After this line of questioning, Odongo showed her four photographs for her to identify the man to whom she was given as a “wife.” She did not recognize the men in three of the photographs, but she identified the fourth one as a photograph of the man who was her “husband.”

Witness P-351 concluded her testimony on November 14. Douglas Obwor was the next witness to testify.