A long serving councilor told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that many Lukodi residents have not recovered psychologically or economically since the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attacked a camp in the area 14 years ago.
Gibson Okulu told the court on May 3 that Lukodi residents no longer collaborated on different projects as they used before the May 19, 2004 LRA attack on the Lukodi camp for internally displaced people (IDP).
He described many Lukodi residents suffering mental breakdowns or showing signs of depression. Okulu said those residents who were able to farm have not been able to regain the standard of livelihood they had before the May 2004 attack on the Lukodi.
Okulu said he has been a local councilor one (LC1) in Lukodi for the past 30 years since he was first elected in 1988. He was testifying in the trial of a former LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, who faces 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against for his alleged role in the attack on Lukodi.
Other offenses Ongwen has been charged with include attacking three other IDP camps, sex crimes, and conscripting child soldiers. 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 May 3, Okulu was questioned by Megan Hirst, a lawyer for one of the groups of victims in the trial. Hirst is part of the team led by Joseph Akwenyu Manoba and Francisco Cox that represents 2,559 victims.
One issue Hirst asked Okulu about was the present state of mental health of Lukodi residents who survived the May 2004 attack.
“There are some people who did not have any mental problem in the past who are now behaving like mad people. People who were able, who were hardworking are no longer able to do what they used to do. There are people who are too secluded, and they live alone even if they were not like that before. Some of the community members lost so many people they do not know what to do,” answered Okulu.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt asked Okulu whether the attack had any impact on the social cohesion of Lukodi.
“Yes, there is. In the past people would come together, like a cooperative society, to do things together as a community. But with what took place people fear coming together. They fear that when you are found living together you will be finished like what happened in the past. In the past people would farm for their livelihood. People [the LRA] when they find you farming they would cut off your hand, they would maim you, and now people fear farming,” replied Okulu.
Another line of questioning Hirst pursued was the impact of the Lukodi attack on people’s livelihood.
“What is the economic state of the community today?” asked Hirst.
“People are poor these days because of the vulnerable situation they are in. In the past people had livestock. People had goats. People had chicken. For me, as an example, I had cattle. I had goats. But now I am not able to farm enough and raise resources to buy more livestock,” answered Okulu.
He said the government has a program to give people of Lukodi cattle and goats, “but that is not enough.”
“People are desperate, living in a poor condition. People are not able to farm,” said Okulu.
Hirst asked Okulu about the May 2004 attack on Lukodi, during which the issue of people being abducted came up. Okulu said many of those who were abducted have returned.
“Some of these people have not yet returned. What impact does that have on the families of those who are still missing?” asked Hirst.
“They are in pain, and they think that their children have all died,” replied Okulu.
“Do they try to find out what has happened to their abducted children?” asked Hirst.
“They try but it is not easy to find out any information about them,” answered Okulu. He said some people who escaped the LRA returned to tell some families that they saw their relative in the LRA. Others have told families that they did not see their relative while they were in the LRA.
During his testimony on May 3, Okulu also spoke about what he witnessed during and after the May 2004 attack. He said he lived in the camp, and there were 19 government soldiers assigned to guard the camp, a number he said was inadequate. Okulu said at the time of the attack there were about 4,000 residents in the camp.
Thomas Obhof, a lawyer representing Ongwen, asked Okulu whether some of the civilians who were killed during the attack could have been shot in the crossfire between the LRA and government soldiers.
“The government soldiers fled because the LRA came in a V-shape and surrounded the whole place. For them [the government soldiers] they fled … [the LRA] worked until they completed their mission,” replied Okulu. He said reinforcements for the government soldiers came hours after the LRA had left.
Okulu said one of his sons was killed during the attack. He said most of the 1,700 homes in the camp were burned down. He said some people were burned in their homes. Okulu told the court that survivors of the attack buried the dead in the camp, and he took part in overseeing the burials.
He said later the government asked for the bodies to be exhumed for a post-mortem to be carried out on them, and then they were reburied. He said what happened that day in May 2004 still affects him to date.
“Up to today sometimes I am not settled. At that time the smell of the burning corpses [was everywhere]. I used not to smoke before, but because of that burning I had to smoke to relieve my senses. Even now, [if I hear] like a noise that is very sudden I actually get unsettled, disturbed in the mind,” said Okulu.
Obhof also asked Okulu about his abduction by the LRA before the May 2004 attack on Lukodi. Okulu said the LRA abducted him several times, but they usually released him after a few days because he was an adult. He told Obhof that he had earlier told the court he was born in 1956.
Okulu said the first time the LRA abducted him was in 1988. He said when he was abducted in 1999 he remained with the LRA for about a month before being released. He said in 1999 he was also abducted with two of his children. He said the children escaped before him.
Okulu concluded his testimony on May 3, and Teddy Atim was the next witness to testify.