A witness broke down and cried loudly as he began narrating to the International Criminal Court (ICC) how the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abducted him about 14 years ago when he and his family fled their home after neighbors warned them the rebel group was in the vicinity.
Witness P-200 broke down about half an hour into his testimony on Monday. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt ordered a short break in proceedings to allow the witness to recover and an assessment to be made on whether he could continue his testimony. Witness P-200 resumed his testimony after about 15 minutes. Monday’s hearing was also shortened to give the witness longer breaks between his testimony.
He is testifying in the ICC trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander, who has been charged for his alleged role in attacks on four camps for internally displaced people (IDP), sex crimes, and conscripting child soldiers. In total, Ongwen is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Witness P-200 told the court on Monday he was abducted on June 24, 2003. Much of his testimony about his abduction was closed to the public because Witness P-200 was testifying with in-court measures to protect his identity from the public. These measures include holding portions of his testimony in private session when questions or responses could potentially identify him. His face is also distorted in public broadcasts of the proceedings.
During her introductory questions, prosecution lawyer Beti Hohler asked Witness P-200 to explain how he became a member of the LRA.
“I was abducted by Dominic Ongwen. And that’s how I came to be in the LRA,” replied Witness P-200.
“Can you explain to us in your own words and in a little more detail what happened that day you were abducted?” asked Hohler.
Witness P-200 said the morning of June 24, 2003 some neighbors passed his home and asked him why he was still there when the rebels had been seen passing on a road nearby. He said he and his family then left his home.
“Then we met with the five people. Dominic Ongwen with other boys, small boys. And my family members were beaten,” he said. A few sentences later is when he broke down.
After the break, Judge Schmitt commended the witness for being present at The Hague to testify and help the court in its search for the truth. He encouraged Witness P-200 to just to narrate what happened to him, and once he finished his narration then Hohler would ask him some questions.
Part of his testimony was closed the public, but during the opening sessions, Witness P-200 told the court about two times while he was in the LRA when he and other abductees were chosen to be killed.
“First time, they picked six of us, and they killed three and [they were] ordered to stop. The second time they picked four of us and killed three and [they were] ordered to stop,” said the witness.
After the mid-morning break, Hohler followed up on his testimony about how twice he survived almost being killed while in the LRA.
“Mr. Witness, you told us in the morning that you were twice lined up to be killed and then the killing was stopped before your turn came. I want to ask you who stopped the killing?” asked Hohler.
“Dominic Ongwen,” replied Witness P-200.
“Did he say why he stopped the killing?” asked Hohler.
“I don’t remember, but I suggest it is because I was big enough to carry for him his food,” the witness answered.
“Is that the only reason why he would stop the killing?” continued Hohler.
“And maybe, I suggest, when we met with [LRA leader Joseph] Kony in Adilang, Kony instructed Dominic Ongwen to keep me well,” Witness P-200 replied.
“Did you hear Kony say that to Dominic Ongwen?” asked Hohler.
“Yes,” the witness said.
“And why do you think Kony said that to Dominic Ongwen, that he should keep you well?” asked Hohler.
“Because I had knowledge of the medicine,” the witness answered.
Witness P-200 also testified about the day he escaped from the LRA. He said on that day Ongwen made him lie down and stabbed him several times with a bayonet. He said he was stabbed on the forehead, on one side, in one thigh, and on his back. He said Ongwen then ordered abductees to carry him across a river.
He said at some point before crossing the river he hid underwater and waited to be sure the members of the unit he was with had passed. Witness P-200 said he then got out of the river and hid.
“Again, they came back looking for me. They moved to where we were coming from. They tried to step on some grass around the river, but they couldn’t see me,” the witness said.
Witness P-200 said he later got to the Ugandan military barracks at Palenga. He said he was eventually taken to a hospital.
Another line of questioning Hohler followed was about the ages of the children Witness P-200 said he saw with Ongwen on the day he was abducted and later while he was with the LRA. The witness said the boys who abducted him with Ongwen were aged between 12 and 13 years old. He said while in the LRA the youngest person he saw would have been about 12 years old.
Hohler also asked Witness P-200 what his tasks were while he was with the LRA.
“One was to carry luggage. Two was to carry logs to make fire for Dominic Ongwen. Three to dig what we call adaki,” said the witness.
“Can you explain to us a little bit what that means?” asked Judge Schmitt.
“Adaki is that hole where a soldier sleeps. And then my role was to dig a pit for the commander to defecate,” replied the witness.
When Hohler finished questioning Witness P-200, Judge Schmitt asked a lawyer for victims in the trial of Ongwen, Orchlon Narantsetseg, whether he wanted to question the witness. Narantsetseg said he had planned to question him about the physical and mental harm he suffered while with the LRA, but after what happened in the morning he decided not to do so. Narantsetseg said he did not want to traumatize the witness further.
Abigail Bridgman, a lawyer representing Ongwen, cross-examined Witness P-200 in the afternoon. She asked him questions about human rights and leadership training he received from different organizations after his abduction and whether the training included information about the ICC or the Ugandan individuals wanted by the ICC.
Bridgman also asked him about whether after his abduction he joined a rehabilitation program. He said he participated in one managed by FIDA International. He said the program required him to meet with someone from FIDA International who he said guided him on how to live with the community he came from, among other things.
Witness P-200 will continue to testify on Tuesday.