A former fighter for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the group did not kill civilians or damage their homes when the LRA attacked the Abok camp for internally displaced (IDP) people 14 years ago.
Kenneth Opiyo told the court on November 1 that the LRA only took food from the camp and an hour after they had retreated from Abok is when Ugandan army soldiers attacked them. Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander, is on trial at the ICC on 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the June 8, 2004 attack on Abok.
Ongwen has also been charged for his alleged role in attacks on three other IDP camps in northern Uganda that took place between 2003 and 2004. He has been further charged for his alleged role in sexual and gender-based crimes and conscripting child soldiers. In total, Ongwen faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Opiyo told the court on November 1 that he met Ongwen once during his time with the LRA. Opiyo said he met Ongwen in 2003 before the LRA conducted attacks in the Teso region. He said this meeting took place at Lacek-Ocot when a gathering of various LRA groups had been called and the then LRA deputy leader, Vincent Otti, was present.
“How long was your group with Mr. Ongwen in Lacek-Ocot?” asked Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s lawyers.
“We stayed for only two days,” replied Opiyo.
When Obhof concluded questioning Opiyo, Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, asked him more questions about the missions he was sent on to “collect food.”
“When you were sent were you in any case told to harm or kill any civilian? Was that part of the instruction?” asked Odongo.
“No, it was not given,” answered Opiyo.
“Were you told to destroy any property that you came across? Like burning houses?” asked Odongo.
“No,” replied Opiyo.
“Can you tell court what would happen to whoever overstepped the bounds of the instruction to pick food and killed or harmed civilians?” asked Odongo.
“A person who … violates such instructions would be punished. If the person had a gun that gun would be taken away from him, so he would get the status of a trainee,” said Opiyo.
When Odongo concluded questioning Opiyo, prosecutor Pubudu Sachithanandan questioned him about his age and activities with the LRA.
Opiyo told the court that he was 11 years old in 2004. Sachithanandan also asked him about what he did during the attack on Abok.
“You started taking food from places in Abok, that’s right isn’t it?” asked Sachithanandan.
“That’s correct,” said Opiyo.
“Could you describe a little bit what sort of things you took?” asked Sachithanandan.
Opiyo said they took beans. “We actually wanted beans more (than anything else) from that place,” he said.
“Was it just you or were there also other people doing this?” asked Sachithanandan.
“The group that went (to Abok), went to collect food,” replied Opiyo. He said the youngest person in the group would have been 11 or 12 years old.
“And how many people of that age, say 11, 12, 13 were collecting food at Abok?” asked Sachithanandan.
“They were not many people. Only two of us were young,” answered Opiyo.
After Sachithanandan questioned Opiyo, Joseph Akwenyu Manoba, a lawyer representing one group of victims in this case, also questioned him.
“This abduction that you experienced, did it have any impact on you?” asked Manoba.
“It didn’t have any impact on me,” said Opiyo.
Manoba also questioned him about whether the LRA provided any education to the boys and girls who had been abducted. Opiyo said the LRA did not provide any formal education for its abductees. Manoba asked Opiyo about what he felt when he took food from civilians.
“We don’t collect everything we find in the house. We just pick (what we need),” said Opiyo.
During his testimony, Opiyo said he was eight years-old when the LRA abducted him. He said he first served as an escort for a commander in the Trinkle brigade called Kenneth. Opiyo said when Kenneth was killed in battle he was assigned to a different brigade, Stockree. He said it was while he was with Stockree that he escaped from the LRA in 2006.
Opiyo concluded his testimony on November 1.