A former fighter with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) about being abducted by the LRA and later taking part in an attack on a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) where his father, sister, and other relatives lived.
Witness P-250* testified on Monday in the trial of a former LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, which resumed after a 45-day break. The last hearing of 2017 in Ongwen’s trial was on November 30. The trial has been going on since December 2016, and Witness P-250 is the 54th prosecution witness to testify.
The witness told the court he took part in an October 2003 attack on the Pajule IDP camp where his father, sister, and other relatives resided. He said a young cousin of his was killed in the attack. Witness P-250 said his sister was 16 years old at the time and was abducted. He said his father was beaten on his chest during the attack, and he believed his father died much later because of the trauma he suffered the day of the Pajule attack.
“The person who killed my uncle’s child is unknown to me because when I found the body the child had already been chopped,” the witness told the court.
“If I knew the person who beat my father then that person would have had trouble with me,” he said.
Ongwen has been charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the attack on Pajule on October 10, 2003. He is also alleged to have been involved in attacks on three other IDP camps, namely Abok, Lukodi, and Odek. Ongwen has also been charged with sex crimes and conscripting child soldiers. In total he is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
During his testimony on Monday, Witness P-250 said many people were killed during the attack on Pajule and some of them were decapitated. He said others were beaten and homes were burned down. He said the LRA looted beans, maize, goats, and other things from Pajule and abductees were made to carry them. He estimated the LRA abducted as many as 150 men, women, and children from Pajule.
Witness P-250 said he and five other LRA fighters who were also from the Pajule area were angered by the attack and said as much to those who were junior to them as they trekked away from Pajule. He said word of their anger reached their seniors and at a place called Wanduku the six of them were summoned.
“We were told that we should all lie down, and we were beaten six lashes and we were told to go away,” Witness P-250 told the court. He said he did not know the name of the person who beat them.
The witness said the commanders he saw present at the time of the attack on Pajule were Vincent Otti, who was the LRA deputy leader at the time, Ongwen, and someone called lapwony Papa. Lapwony is the Acholi word for teacher. and in the LRA it was used as a term of respect for one’s superior. Witness P-250 said he did not see them in Pajule during the attack, but he saw them in Wanduku.
Significant parts of the testimony of Witness P-250 was closed to the public to protect his identity. This included his testimony about his specific role during the attack on Pajule. He has been granted protective measures to conceal his identity from the public, including his face being distorted in public broadcasts of the hearing.
At the beginning of Monday’s hearing Witness P-250 said the LRA abducted him in 2002, and the group he became part of was commanded by Tabu Ley. He said Tabu Ley died in battle, and they were ordered to carry his body to Sudan. He said the body was heavy and slowed down their progress, and this was reported to LRA leader Joseph Kony.
Witness P-250 said Kony ordered that they then cut Tabu Ley’s head and take it to him. He said Kony also instructed them on what to do with the head before taking it to him in Sudan.
“Put the head of Tabu Ley in the fifth house. Then once that is done you can carry the head after four days and bring it to me,” the witness said, quoting the instructions Kony gave. He said they then attacked the village where they were, burned down four houses, and used the fifth one as instructed.
Prosecutor Pubudu Sachithanandan asked him who then became leader of the group. The witness said Kony named Ongwen as the group’s leader.
After Sachithanandan finished questioning Witness P-250, Paolina Massidda asked him some questions. Massidda represents one group of victims in the trial of Ongwen. Witness P-250 is part of that group of victims, making him a dual-status witness given he is also a prosecution witness.
Massidda asked him about the emotion he felt when he was abducted, whether he suffered any injuries while with the LRA and how his abduction affected his life. The witness said he was going to school when he was abducted. After he escaped the LRA he managed to get enrolled back in school, but he could not pay the school fees.
He said if where he lives remains free of conflict, “then my future could be good because right now I can farm … There is nothing to spoil it.”
Witness P-250 will continue to testify on Tuesday.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the witness pseudonym as P-145. The correct pseudonym is P-250.