A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) she was repeatedly subjected to sexual violence by a commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army to whom she had been given as “wife.”
Witness P-374 told the court on Tuesday she was abducted by members of the LRA’s Sinia brigade, and she was given to a commander in that brigade. At the time she of her abduction, the witness said that she was in Primary Six, or the sixth year of primary school.
The witness testified in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, who has been charged with crimes he is alleged to have committed while a commander in Sinia brigade between July 2002 and December 2005. He is facing eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged indirect role in committing sexual and gender-based crimes, such as forced marriage, torture, and rape.
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 Tuesday, Witness P-374 said that soon after she was abducted she was assigned to the household of a commander. She said she did not know who decided where she should go after being abducted. She said she just knew commanders met and discussed things. Then their escorts showed the different abductees where they were to go.
“Did you ever receive any instructions of what you were going to do at the time of your distribution?” asked Abigail Bridgman, one of Ongwen’s lawyers.
“I was not told anything. I was only told that get up and go. I stood up and started following the people who were leading me,” answered the witness.
The details of what the duties the witness performed in the household she was assigned to did not come up in open court. The details of when she was made a “wife” also did not come up in open court.
As Witness P-374 testified under in-court protective measures to guard against her identity becoming public, part of her testimony was closed to the public. Another reason some of this information did not come up in open court is the prosecution did not question her in detail about her time in the LRA.
Witness P-374 testified under Rule 68(3) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Under this provision, a witness must be present in court and state that he or she does not object to their statement being used as evidence in the case. The witness should also be available for questioning by lawyers and judges.
Prosecutor Shkelzen Zeneli led Witness P-374 through the steps to get her statement to prosecution investigators admitted as evidence. Once she told the court she did not object to it being used as evidence, Zeneli then followed up with a few questions before handed over to the next lawyer.
Jane Adong was the next lawyer to question Witness P-374. Adong is a lawyer for one of the groups of victims in the trial of Ongwen. Witness P-374 is also one of the victims registered in the trial, making her a dual-status witness.
Adong, who was also in the video link location where Witness P-374 was, asked her about the commander she was given to as a “wife.” In open court he was only referred to as person number one to protect the identity of the witness.
Adong asked the witness about person number one, “[H]e raped you repeatedly and how he started violence on you. Were you injured as a result of that sexual violence?”
“At the time when he was raping me he kept on beating me. He kept on slapping me, kept on beating … I would sustain injuries on my private parts such that every time I would try to walk I would be in pain,” replied the witness.
“Do you still suffer from this pain?” asked Adong.
“Even right now I still experience the pain on my belly. I keep on experiencing that pain. It comes on and off. I persevere because I have no other way of dealing with this,” answered the witness.
She described herself as being “psychologically tortured” because she said person number one was also “sleeping with other women while he was raping me.” She said she worried he could have infected her with a sexually transmitted disease.
Adong asked her about her return home after leaving the LRA. Witness P-374 said her family welcomed her back, but she failed to recognize her mother when she returned. She said life was also difficult.
“The way we lived back at home is that you feel like living freely, mixing freely with others, but the people [feared] I could be having evil spirits. People really fear living with me,” the witness said, referring to the community where she lived.
Adong also asked Witness P-374 what she hoped for the future.
“My interest is that first of all, if I could be supported in terms of counseling so that I could have some psychological rehabilitation,” said the witness.
Earlier she had told the court that the counseling she received at the rehabilitation center she went to after leaving the LRA was inadequate. She also said that she still has nightmares of the killing she saw while in the LRA.
Witness P-374 said she would also like to get some training so that she can be employed.
“We should be taken away from the location where we are living now. They are not living well with us. It is a very hostile environment,” said Witness P-374 in response to Adong’s question about her hope for the future.
When Adong finished questioning Witness P-374, Bridgman began cross-examining her. One of the questions Bridgman asked the witness was how she came to know Ongwen. Witness P-374 said he was pointed out to her by someone shortly after she had been abducted. Bridgman also asked her how she knew the group she was with was called Sinia.
“I heard people say Odomi was the leader of Sinia because we were moving as members of Sinia. The reason I was able to establish that is when we were with other [LRA] groups I was then able to establish that I was in the group called Sinia, and the leader of that group was called Odomi,” said the witness, using the name Ongwen was commonly known by in the LRA.
A little later Bridgman put some propositions to the witness.
“What would you say if I told you that Buk Abudema was the leader of Sinia at the time of your abduction?” asked Bridgman.
“Well, I wouldn’t know. What I know is that I was abducted, and I was in Sinia. What I also know is that the leader of Sinia was Odomi,” answered Witness P-374.
“What would you say if I told you that Odomi was attached to Control Altar and not Sinia [at the time]?” asked Bridgman.
“Well, I don’t know that, and I cannot say anything about it,” replied the witness.
Bridgman concluded questioning Witness P-374 at the end of Tuesday’s hearing. Witness P-410 testified next, and he began his testimony on Wednesday.