Witness Testifies About the Difficulty of Returning Home After Being an LRA “Wife”

A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) she was in the household of Dominic Ongwen for eight months before she was later on given as a “wife” to another commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Witness P-366 told the court on Wednesday the LRA abducted her twice in 2000, and she described to the court some of her experiences in the LRA after her second abduction. Charles Taku, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, challenged her account about being in Ongwen’s household.

Ongwen, a former LRA commander, has been charged with eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in indirectly committing sexual and gender-based crimes such as forced marriage, sexual slavery, and enslavement. He is alleged to have committed these crimes between July 2002 and December 2005.

In total Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

On Wednesday, Witness P-366 told the court “the holy” abducted her twice in 2000. The holy is a term a number of prosecution witnesses have used to refer to LRA members, including fighters. The prosecution and defense have agreed as fact that the holy is term used to refer to the LRA or other groups in Uganda.

Witness P-366 said two weeks after her second abduction by the LRA she was taken into Ongwen’s household. According to documents referred to in court, Witness P-366’s second abduction was in December 2000. When asked how old she was at the time of her second abduction, Witness P-366 said she was 11 years old. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt observed that there were documents in evidence that showed she could have been as young as eight years old.

The witness estimated that she remained in Ongwen’s household for about eights months and then later on she was given to another LRA commander to be his “wife.” That LRA commander was not named in open court to protect the identify of Witness P-366, who testified under in-court protective measures. Her face was distorted in public broadcasts of the hearing. Whenever her testimony could identify her, it was closed to the public. This happened frequently on Wednesday.

Taku challenged her testimony about which of Ongwen’s “wives” was in his household at the time the witness was there. He also challenged her knowledge about Ongwen’s whereabouts during particular times.

He presented Witness P-366 with some propositions about two “wives” of Ongwen’s that she said she knew during the time she was in Ongwen’s household. These were Ayare and Fatuma.

Taku asked her what she would say “if I put it to you that Ayare was abducted and found herself there [Ongwen’s household] not earlier than September 2002?”

“I do not recall dates. It was not easy to remember days and dates when you were in the bush,” answered Witness P-366.

Taku asked her about Fatuma. The witness said she found Fatuma in Ongwen’s household when she joined.

“What would you say if I said that Fatuma came to Odomi sometime in September of 2001?” asked Taku. Odomi is the name by which the witness referred to Ongwen throughout her testimony. Previous prosecution witnesses have also referred to Ongwen as Odomi.

The witness’s answer to the question about Fatuma was closed to the public.

Taku also asked Witness P-366 about her testimony that she travelled to Sudan while she was in Ongwen’s household, and he was part of the group that she travelled with. She said they only spent a week in Sudan.

“What would you say Witness, if I put it to you that Odomi did not go back to Sudan until 2006 during the peace process… so he could not have been in Sudan with you. What do you say to that?” asked Taku.

“I have said what I can recall,” replied Witness P-366.

When Wednesday’s hearing began, prosecutor Colleen Gilg took Witness P-366 through the steps necessary for her statement to prosecution investigators to be entered into evidence. Gilg did this to fulfil the requirements of Rule 68(3) of the ICC Rules of Evidence and Procedure. Trial Chamber IX allowed Witness P-366 to testify under this provision in a December 5, 2016 decision.

Gilg asked Witness P-366 to confirm two documents: one, her national identity card, and, the other, her statement. The witness confirmed both were hers. Then Gilg asked her whether she had any objection to the judges using her statement as evidence. Witness P-366 said she did not object. A witness not objecting to their statement being used as evidence is one of the requirements of Rule 68(3). The other requirements are that the witness be present in court and available for questioning by judges and lawyers. In the case of Witness P-366, she testified via video link from an undisclosed location.

One of the issues Gilg asked Witness P-366 about was what happened when she returned home after her second abduction. Gilg focused on what Witness P-366’s “husband” wanted when they left the LRA and who the witness told that she had been “a wife” in the LRA.

“He wanted me to stay with him when we returned, but my parents refused. Also, I did not want to stay with him because I had been given to him forcefully,” said the witness on the issue of what her “husband” wanted on leaving the LRA.

Gilg asked her to explain why she thought her parents refused her to be with the man who had been her “husband.”

“To my understanding, my parents did not want me to stay with this man because I had been away from my parents for a long time. They wanted me to go back to school, and they did not want me to stay with the man. They also looked at the man, and they saw he was older than me,” replied Witness P-366.

Gilg asked her whether people other than her family knew about the man or that she had been “a wife” in the LRA. Witness P-366 said she did not tell people other than her family about her experience in the LRA.

“Why did you choose not to tell anyone else besides your family?” asked Gilg.

“If I told people about this, people would think about it, people would gossip about, and it would be an unnecessary reminder for me,” answered the witness.

She said people would say, “’Oh, look at her, she was a wife of a holy,’ and it would make my life difficult. That is why I did not tell anyone apart from my family.”

After Gilg finished asking clarifying questions, Jane Adong, a lawyer for one group of victims in the trial, also asked Witness P-366 questions.

Witness P-366 concluded her testimony on Wednesday. Witness P-372 began testifying on Thursday.