Witness Testifies About Being “Wife” to Three LRA Men

A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) she was made the “wife” of a fighter with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at an early age and by the time she escaped the group in 2004 she had been “wife” to three men.

Witness D-119 told the court that each time a man who had been assigned to be her “husband” died she was given to someone else to be their “wife.” The witness did not say in open court whether the men designated as her “husbands” died in battle or due to some other cause.

She testified on November 13 that Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander on trial at the ICC, was kind to her once when other LRA fighters were ruthless. Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is alleged to have committed the crimes in northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On November 13, Witness D-119 told the court that some time after the LRA abducted her she was assigned to a man who was referred to in open court as “Person Number One.” She said that at first, she did household chores for him. Witness D-119 said she had not started menstruating by then. She said later she was made “Person Number One’s” “wife.”

During Witness D-119’s testimony on November 13, some of the people she testified about were referred to by pseudonyms to prevent Witness D-119’s identity becoming public. This was one of the court-ordered protective measures the witness was granted. Another measure was her face was distorted in public broadcasts of her testimony. Any time Witness D-119 testified about information or details that could identify her, that testimony was closed to the public. The court heard parts of her testimony this way.

In her public sessions, Witness D-119 said “Person Number One” did not want her and she feared him because she was very young and staying with him was a choice between “life and death.” She said did not stay long with “Person Number One” before he died.

She said she was then assigned to someone else, who was identified in open court as “Person Number Two.” She said she stayed with him a long time and she even had a child with him. Witness D-119 said he died some time later.

“And how did you then end up with ‘Person Number Three?’” asked Abigail Bridgman, one of Ongwen’s lawyers.

“This is how it happened with ‘Person Number Three.’ When I was alone at the home of the deceased (“Person Number Two”), he (“Person Number Three”) took me from that coy (company) and took me to his household. Unfortunately, the first child (I had) died when I was at his household,” Witness D-119 replied.

Some questions later, Bridgman asked Witness D-119 about whether LRA men and women had a choice in developing relationships of their own choosing. Witness D-119 said this was not allowed because the belief in the LRA was a man could die in battle if he pursued a relationship with someone he liked.

“Do you know if a man could refuse a woman they were given as a wife?” asked Bridgman.

“Sometimes you are given to a man who doesn’t like you, but the man has no choice to say, ‘Go back to where you were got from.’ You will have to try and live with the person as much as you do not have a good relationship,” answered Witness D-119.

“If a man or woman disobeyed these rules, what was a typical punishment in the LRA?” asked Bridgman.

The witness answered that anyone who disobeyed the rules on relationships in the LRA, “would be subjected to a firing squad.”

Another line of questioning Bridgman followed with Witness D-119 was her knowledge of Ongwen. The witness said she knew of Ongwen and met him once. She described him as a “a good person” because of how he treated her during one of the long treks LRA members made from one point to another in northern Uganda.

Witness D-119 said people were discouraged from slowing down the group during such treks. She said when people were found lagging behind because of fatigue, the fighters who found them would say, “Let’s have this one rest here.” She said this meant that person would be shot and left behind.

The witness said she was tired during one such trek as she was carrying her child as well and lagged behind. Witness D-119 said Ongwen found her lagging behind but he did not do what others did.

“He came to me, picked up the baby I was carrying. He moved with me … He was not a harsh commander. I can confirm he was a good person,” said Witness D-119.

She concluded her testimony on November 13. A transcript of her testimony can be found here.