Today, the defense for Dominic Ongwen called its first witness in Ongwen’s trial by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for crimes he is alleged to have committed as a commander of the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). He is alleged to have committed these crimes between July 1, 2002 and December 31, 2005.
The charges against Ongwen include his alleged role in attacks on four former camps for internally displaced people (IDP) in northern Uganda and sex and gender-based crimes.
Today, the defense called Yusuf Okwonga Adek, a traditional Acholi leader who had worked on peace negotiations with Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA.
Adek, a Pageya clan leader from northern Uganda, testified about the background to the conflict. He told the court that many Acholi “went to the bush” because they were angry at being mistreated by the Ugandan army. Adek said that many Acholi had their property, livestock, and even children taken by the army.
When the LRA started operating in the area, Adek said that Acholi were divided into three general camps: the majority of people wanted to take up arms, some wanted dialogue and peace talks, and a minority of people were indifferent about the conflict.
Adek testified that he had a very close relationship with Joseph Kony, who he said he met before the peace process began. He said he met Kony shortly after Kony went to the bush.
Kony told Adek that he was gifted in receiving visits from spirits, the witness said. Adek told the judges that he told Kony that he should use that gift to make peace. He also described a sociable, nice, and logical side to Joseph Kony.
At the urging of the judges, the defense questioned Adek about various peace talks with the LRA. Adek described meeting with Betty Bigombe, an Ugandan government minister who initiated peace talks with Kony and the LRA. He also testified about peace talks in Sudan, and how the various talks would end up falling apart.
In one instance, the witness said, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni issued an ultimatum for Kony to surrender within one week in early 1994. Adek said this caused the talks to fall apart, after which the LRA crossed the border from Uganda into Sudan.
Adek will continue his testimony tomorrow.