A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that while she was in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) she was in the same group as Dominic Ongwen, and one of the soldiers under his command raped her.
Witness P-448 stuck to her testimony on Thursday as two of Ongwen’s lawyers challenged her on whether she was in Ongwen’s group or a different group within the LRA. She said it was possible she mixed up names, but she was sure she was in Ongwen’s group.
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 rape.
He has also been charged for his alleged role in attacking four camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) between July 2002 and December 2005. In total, Ongwen is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Witness P-448 began testifying the afternoon of Wednesday, February 21, via video link from an undisclosed location. Prosecutor Beti Hohler asked her a few questions followed by Jane Adong, a lawyer for one of the group of victims in this trial. Abigail Bridgman and Krispus Ayena Odongo then cross-examined Witness P-448 on Thursday.
It was during this cross-examination that both defense lawyers questioned Witness P-448 about being in Ongwen’s group.
Witness P-448 told the court that she was abducted in March 2003, and she could have been 14 years old at the time. She said her mother told her she was 14, but she did not have her birth certificate because it was burned in a fire in her aunt’s house.
Her testimony giving some identifying details of her abduction was closed to the public as Witness P-448 testified under in-court protective measures. Other protective measures included her face and voice being distorted in the public broadcasts of the hearing. Also, the two men she was given to as a “wife” were identified in open court as person number one and person number two.
During her testimony, Witness P-448 said she was abducted by a group of LRA fighters led by someone called Odongo who she said was in Control Altar. The high command of the LRA is called Control Altar. She also said the Odongo who abducted her was in the same group as Dominic Ongwen.
She told the court the two men she was given to as a “wife” were both in a group called Oka. Two previous witnesses – Witness P-231 and Witness P-264 – have testified that they were members of Oka battalion, and they said it was part of Sinia brigade. Those witnesses testified that when they were in Oka battalion, Ongwen was either the battalion commander or Sinia brigade commander.
Witness P-448 also testified that the commander of the group she was in was called Ebuk, and he is the one who gave her to person number one as “wife.” After this man died, she said Ebuk gave her to person number two. The witness said she did not know Ebuk’s other name, but she said she had heard the name Abudema. Witness P-406, who testified between Monday and Wednesday last week, said when he became a member of Sinia brigade sometime in 2002, Buk Abudema was the brigade commander until about October 2003.
“May I suggest to you, Madam Witness, that you are confused about the commanders that you met, and even in your testimony you are confused whether you fell into Mr. Ongwen’s group during the attack?” asked Bridgman.
“No, that is not right. The truth is that I did enter that group. However, just because I did not know the people in there, so probably I have mixed up things,” replied Witness P-448.
Some time later Odongo also pursued this line of questioning, putting a proposition to Witness P-448.
“May I suggest, Madam Witness, that from your narrative, the type of people you interacted with all the way up to [LRA leader Joseph] Kony, there is absolutely no way, upon any reasonable hypothesis, that your ordeal was at the behest or the responsibility of Dominic Ongwen. What do you say about that?” asked Odongo.
“But it was his soldiers who abducted me. How can you say it was not him?” responded Witness P-448.
Earlier Bridgman asked Witness P-448 about some of the details of the night the witness testified she was raped by person number one soon after she had been given to him as a “wife.” Witness P-448 said person number one had a gun by his side, and she felt she could not resist when he forced himself on her. She also said she was aware that in the LRA a woman could be killed for refusing to sleep with her “husband.”
“So, would I be correct to say that even without the presence of a gun that night you became person number one’s wife you would not have refused to sleep with him?” asked Bridgman.
“I would not have accepted because then I would be confident that there is nothing that he would use to hurt me,” replied Witness P-448.
“So, if he did not have a gun that night the risk of you being killed would not have been there? Is that your testimony?” asked Bridgman.
“That’s true,” answered the witness.
Bridgman also questioned Witness P-448 about how she was given to person number two as “wife” days after person number one was killed while on a mission.
“Now before you were given to person number two were you ever consulted on whether you wanted to have another husband or not?” asked Bridgman.
“I did not ask for him, and, in any case, I didn’t even want a husband. If you were found with another person you would be caned,” replied Witness P-448.
“Did they give you an option to choose which husband you wanted after person number one?” asked Bridgman.
“I was not consulted. They didn’t ask me whether I needed a man. They asked me to choose from the two men that were available,” answered the witness.
Before questioning Witness P-448 on Wednesday, Hohler led her through the steps to have her statement to the prosecution admitted as evidence under Rule 68(3) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Hohler asked Witness P-448 to confirm that the document before her was her statement and whether she had told the truth to the best of her ability. Hohler then asked her whether she did not object to her statement being used as evidence to which Witness P-448 replied that she did not object.
After those steps were completed, Hohler asked Witness P-448 a few clarifying questions. Adong was next to question the witness, asking her about the harm she suffered while in the LRA and whether her time in the LRA continued to affect her after she had left the group.
“The life [in the LRA] was very difficult and very painful. When it would be rain[ing] there would be no shelter for us. It was only the bosses who have tents. The rest of us would sleep under a tree, and we would just eat seeds and beans to survive,” said Witness P-448.
“Did you have access to sanitary pads during your time in the bush?” asked Adong.
“They were not there. You just had to stay with your dress and when the blood would come it would flow down your legs and for some they didn’t have knickers,” replied the witness.
Adong asked her about a leg injury she got when she was shot by the Ugandan military. Adong asked her whether it had healed and if she continued to get medical attention. Witness P-448 said that she was taken to a hospital when she escaped the LRA, but the wound did not heal.
”So, I got angry one time and put salt and bicarbonate of soda” and it eventually healed, “but now the scar remains as though it looks like a burn,” the witness said.
Witness P-448 concluded her testimony on Thursday. Witness P-085 began testifying on Friday.