A survivor of a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attack on the Lukodi camp for internally displaced (IDP) people 13 years ago told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that most homes in the camp were burned during the attack.
Witness P-187, who testified on Thursday and Friday, told the court the LRA abducted her during the attack and made her carry food. She said as they trekked away from Lukodi, she saw LRA fighters throw babies and children into the bush because they were crying.
The witness was testifying in the trial of a former LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, who has been charged with 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the Lukodi attack. In total, he has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed between July 2002 and December 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Thursday, March 22, Witness P-187 said that when the LRA attacked Lukodi they “were actually shouting at the top of their voices.” She said they banged jerry cans and blew whistles.
“What had happened to the UPDF [Ugandan People’s Defense Forces] soldiers who had been in the camp?” asked Benjamin Gumpert, the lead prosecutor in Ongwen’s trial.
“They were few. They were less than 30 in number. I think they just fled, they didn’t exchange fire [with the LRA],” answered Witness P-187.
“Did you later see where they had fled to?” asked Gumpert.
“Those soldiers, I did not see [them fleeing] because at that time it was just fire all over,” replied the witness. She told the court that all the homes were burned down.
“Lukodi remained a homestead which had been abandoned. There were no houses there,” said Witness P-187.
Later on Thursday, the witness told the court about the loss she suffered when homes in the Lukodi camp were burned.
“All my houses were burnt. All my items were burnt. I had five goats, and I also had several chicken. I never found any of them,” said the witness. She explained one house she constructed, and the other house she was given by the owner of the land she was living on.
On Friday, Charles Taku, one of Ongwen’s lawyer, followed up on the issue of houses being burned in Lukodi during the attack.
“Were you aware that the houses around the trading center were not destroyed or burnt?” asked Taku.
“No, the houses at the center did not burn because they have corrugated iron sheets,” answered Witness P-187. She said it was the homes further from the center that were burned.
On Thursday, Witness P-187 told the court that as she trekked away from Lukodi after being abducted by the LRA, she saw the dead bodies of three people she knew along the way. She named the individuals as Obwoya, Nancy Akello, and Wilson Onek. She said when the LRA released her the day after the attack none of those bodies were among the ones recovered during a search that the Ugandan army carried out. Witness P-187 said that the bodies of Obwoya, Nancy Akello, and Wilson Onek still have not been found.
Witness P-187 also told the court about seeing LRA fighters throwing babies and children into the bush.
“There was a baby, two to three months old, who was just picked and thrown in the bush. So many children were thrown away in the bush,” said the witness. She said some of them were found the day after the attack and some mothers were unable to immediately identify the body of their child because they were swollen. Witness P-187 said the bodies of other children were found later, after wildfires that followed the dry season.
In northern Uganda, where Lukodi is located, the dry season is usually between December and April. According to the charges against Ongwen, the attack on Lukodi took place in May 2004.
On Friday, Taku asked Witness P-187 about the supply of food at Lukodi and whether the government restricted their movements. She said residents were able to go and harvest food from their farms, but they also received donations from non-governmental organizations. She said they did not receive any food aid from the Ugandan government.
Witness P-187 told the court that the camp did not have any government protection assigned to it until it was registered.
Taku also asked her about what she said in her statement to prosecution investigators that she thought the LRA attacked Lukodi because they were looking for food.
“I don’t know what they came to do but I suspected they came for food … They came prepared and ready to kill. If they only wanted food they would have only collected food,” said the witness.
When Taku finished questioning Witness P-187, Thomas Obhof, another lawyer for Ongwen, asked her questions about the geography of Lukodi. He also asked her whether she knew about a military garrison in Gwendiya and military units in Omoti.
Witness P-187 said she did not know about the garrison or the units in Omoti. Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, also cross-examined Witness P-187, but his questioning was closed to the public.
Significant portions of the testimony of Witness P-187 was in private session to protect her identity and also her privacy. During her testimony it emerged she sustained injuries while she was abducted by the LRA, but the details of how she sustained those injuries were given in private session. She testified she was hospitalized immediately when she returned to Lukodi after the LRA released her, but the details of her hospitalization were given in private session.
Witness P-187 testified under in-court protective measures so that her identity is not made public. These measures included distorting her face in public broadcasts of the hearings. Witness P-187 concluded her testimony on Friday.
Witness P-445 will testify on Monday.