A woman who had a child while she was an abductee of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to assist children born to LRA abductees or made orphan by conflict in northern Uganda.
Witness P-006 told the court the LRA abducted her when she was 16 or 17 years old during the October 10, 2003 attack on the Pajule camp for internally displaced people (IDP). She said she was later made a “wife” to an LRA fighter and had a child while in captivity. Witness P-006 said since escaping the group she has found it difficult to provide for her child.
She testified on November 30 in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander. Jane Adong, a lawyer for one group of victims in this trial, asked Witness P-006 what she expected from the court.
“What I expect from the court is justice and, secondly, I would like to ask the court if it is possible so that the court can assist the children who are fatherless and the children who do not have homes and also the children who are being born in the bush,” replied Witness P-006. In the bush or the bush is a term commonly used in the LRA to mean life in the LRA.
Adong asked Witness P-006 to elaborate what kind of assistance she hoped the court could provide these children.
“Get a land so that when the children come home they can have a future,” answered Witness P-006.
Pajule is one of four IDP camps Ongwen has been charged with being involved in attacking. He faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the attack on Pajule. In total Ongwen is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Witness P-006 told the court that when she returned home in 2004 her family and community welcomed her without hesitation because they had thought she was dead. Witness P-006 said in her culture a child born out of wedlock is the mother’s responsibility, but the mother does not inherit land from her parents. She said she does not have much to give her child.
She said she is currently living with a man, and they have a child together. However, he has not accepted the child she had while in captivity with the LRA.
“Let me explain it. The man that I am with right now, from time to time he complains. He complains about the other child,” the witness said, adding that this child stays with her parents. She described being separated from her child as “extremely painful.”
Adong asked her whether she has the means to provide for the child staying with her parents.
“Not really. I do not have the means, but when I get anything I send the money to my parents so that it can help them to take care of my child,” answered Witness P-006.
When Witness P-006 began her testimony on November 30, prosecutor Beti Hohler showed her the statement she gave to investigators that she signed on April 16, 2005. Hohler asked her to confirm her signature. Witness P-006 confirmed her signature. Hohler asked her whether she had been truthful while giving her statement. The witness said she had been truthful.
“Now Madam the judges can use this statement when they make up their minds about this case. Do you have any objection to the judges using this statement?” asked Hohler.
“No, I have no objection,” replied Witness P-006.
Hohler took Witness P-006 through this procedure because Trial Chamber IX allowed her to testify under Rule 68(3) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The chamber made this decision on December 5, 2016.
Under this provision of Rule 68, a witness should declare whether he or she does not object to their statement being used as evidence in the trial. The witness should also be present in court and available for questioning by lawyers and judges. Witness P-006 testified via video link from an undisclosed location.
On top of Witness P-006 testifying under Rule 68(3), the chamber granted her in-court protective measures. These included her face and voice being distorted during public broadcasts of the hearing. Parts of the hearing were closed to the public to further protect her identity being made public. Another protective measure that was used in court was a numbered list of people who if named in open court could identify the witness. When the need arose to mention individuals on that list, the witness, lawyers and judges referred to the relevant number to avoid revealing the identity of the witness.
Apart from her statement to prosecution investigators, Hohler asked Witness P-006 to identify two statements she gave to the Uganda police in Pader. Witness P-006 said she did not sign nor did she write a statement dated October 28, 2004. She acknowledged giving a statement to the police, but she said it was not read back to her. She confirmed her signature on the statement of May 15, 2013.
Thomas Obhof, a lawyer for Ongwen, asked Witness P-006 about the different dates of birth given for her in different documents. Obhof asked her why a document with World Vision gave her year of birth as 1986 and yet in later documents her year of birth is given as 1987.
“I had not yet clearly established the exact date, the date of my birth. That is why I stated 1986. But when I returned home now that’s when my parents told me they went to the mission where I was baptized, they traced the baptism card,” replied Witness P-006. She said her year of birth in that card was given as 1987.
A little later Obhof asked her about her victim’s application form that was completed in 2010. He said her date of birth in that application is given as 1986.
“I stated that because even previously I knew I was born in 1986. My mom says I was born in ’86 but my father says I was born in ’87. All along before I got this [baptism] card, I would write my date of birth inconsistently,” answered Witness P-006.
Another subject Obhof questioned Witness P-006 about was whether she or the man she was given to as a “wife” knew Ongwen. In open court this man was referred to as person number one.
Obhof asked her about information she gave the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP) in 2015 that she knew Ongwen, but during her testimony on November 30 she said she had only seen him once.
“So, Madam Witness, if you only saw Mr. Ongwen once during your time in the bush, how did you know Mr. Ongwen from your time in the bush?” asked Obhof.
“He was shown to me, that one is lapwony Odomi. That is how I came to know him,” replied Witness P-006. Lapwony is the Acholi word for teacher, and is a term that juniors in the LRA used when referring to their superiors.
Obhof then asked about whether person number one knew Ongwen if, according to her testimony in court, they may have met only once.
“Madam Witness, how would Mr. Ongwen and person number one be chatting and talking about this [her becoming his “wife”] if they only ran into each other one time in Katira [in Sudan] or in Uganda or wherever it was?” asked Obhof.
“Those people communicate. They just set up the antenna, and they talk. The style in which they talk we do not know,” answered Witness P-006.
“What made you think that person number one and Mr. Ongwen knew each other well?” asked Obhof.
“The reason why I say person number one and Mr. Ongwen knew each other is that one day, person number one, one of his wife was the one telling me that person number one has a wife who is with Dominic Ongwen. That is how I knew they knew each other,” replied Witness P-006.
Obhof followed up on these answers, asking Witness P-006 to explain why this information was not in her 2005 statement, but she gave the OTP this information in 2015.
“Why didn’t you tell them about this alleged close relationship between person number one and Mr. Ongwen in 2005?” asked Obhof.
“I did not tell them,” replied Witness P-006.
“Why did you wait until 2015?” asked Obhof.
“The reason why I did not tell was even if I had told them everything, the kind of life I went through in the bush, we would not finish. There were so many things that I went through,” answered the witness.
“Why did you tell them [prosecution investigators in the 2005 statement] ‘I have not heard of Odomi’?” asked Obhof, using the other name Ongwen is known by, Odomi.
“The reason why I stated that I did not know these people was perhaps at the time I was tired. I don’t know,” the witness answered.
Witness P-006 concluded her testimony on November. The next hearing is scheduled for January 15, 2018.