A former bodyguard to Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony told the International Criminal Court (ICC) about Kony’s personality and about the time he refused to obey Kony’s order to kill Otti Lagony, the LRA deputy leader at the time.
Alfred Arop told the court he served in the household of Lagony when Kony gave the order to kill him. He said after Lagony was killed he became one of Kony’s bodyguard. Arop testified on Tuesday, March 26, and Thursday, March 28.
Arop also testified about the character of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander who is on trial at the ICC. Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which allegedly occurred between July 2002 and December 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Tuesday last week, Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, asked Arop about the circumstances surrounding the killings of Lagony, an LRA commander called Okello Odonga, and three other people who were not named in court. Arop said people who were jealous of Lagony and the respect he commanded in the LRA made false accusations against him.
“How did you come to learn about the accusations Joseph Kony made against Otti Lagony, Okello Odonga, and the other three?” asked Obhof.
“I used to live together with them and he [Lagony] did not even know where it came from. Later on, the spirit said those people [Lagony and Odonga] should be killed. Later it was told to us that the spirit ordered that they be killed. I did not see it personally, but that is what they [other LRA members] used to say,” replied Arop.
He said the three people who were killed some time after Lagony and Odonga had been killed were perceived to be close to Lagony and had witnessed murder.
“They killed them so that they [the three] do not tell anyone [about Lagony’s killing],” said Arop. He said he was also “favored” by Lagony.
“Did you then also fear for your life after this happened?” asked Obhof.
“I was scared, and I feared for my life. I knew I would be killed any time,” replied Arop.
On Thursday last week, trial lawyer Kamran Choudhry cross-examined Arop on behalf of the prosecution. Choudhry asked him about some of the details of Lagony’s killing. Choudhry read an excerpt of the defense summary of his interview with them in which Arop said he refused to kill Lagony, and Kony did not punish him for disobeying his order “because Kony respected” his ability to speak his mind.
“Is it correct that you told Kony that you refused to go with the group that executed Otti Lagony?” asked Choudhry.
“Yes,” replied Arop.
“After you told Kony that you refused, Kony didn’t kill you, did he?” asked Choudhry.
“He asked, ‘Why did you refuse to go?’ and he didn’t say anything else,” answered Arop. He said he was afraid, but when nothing happened to him, “I believe he [Kony] understood what I told him.”
“So, there were times when Kony listened to LRA fighters and respected them?” asked Choudhry.
Arop replied that if Kony asked someone for their opinion, then he listened to what that person had to say.
“But you are not the one who asks him. You do not question him,” said Arop.
On Tuesday, Obhof asked Arop about the time he spent with Kony as his bodyguard and what he observed about Kony. Arop testified he stayed with Kony between 2000 and 2002.
“What is the personality of Joseph Kony?” asked Obhof.
“When you are close to Kony you just see as if you are [with] a good person, but he starts talking something strange anytime … You don’t have to question, you just follow,” replied Arop.
“Does something happen when you are close to Kony … like a conversation? Is he approachable as a person as human being?” asked Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt.
“We can have conversations and crack jokes and laugh, but he changes his mood quickly,” answered Arop.
Judge Schmitt also asked whether Kony was always open to seeing anyone in his household.
“Yes. You just don’t join. Sometimes he stops his officers from joining his household,” answered Arop. He said you can be told, “he is resting even if he is sitting alone.”
Obhof asked about the kind of relationship Kony had with his wives and children.
“Yes, he jokes, plays with his children, plays with his wives. What I fear is he changes all of a sudden,” said Arop.
“Would Joseph Kony ever joke around about killing people?” asked Obhof.
“He will not mention to you that he is going to kill you. He can converse with you [and] when you go back he will have already given the order, ‘Kill this person and take him away from our midst’,” answered Arop.
A little later Judge Schmitt asked Arop to estimate how many wives Kony had when Arop was his bodyguard. Arop laughed.
“Well, it’s difficult to mention the figures. Sometimes in a position you have like 30, 40 wives. They are really many. There were 50 households maybe there were like 40 wives,” replied Arop.
Obhof followed up this and asked Arop what kind of advice Kony’s wives shared with him. Arop said the wives would usually talk to him about the challenges they faced in getting food and other things and then Kony ordered for them to be supplied with what they needed.
Obhof then asked Arop whether LRA commanders offered Kony any advice. He laughed.
“Well, that you cannot even try. How do you start? You cannot even try that. You are a high-ranking officer … I don’t think you can start that discussion with him because that means you are now overthrowing his government,” said Arop.
Obhof also asked Arop what he knew about the character of Ongwen. The lead prosecutor in this trial, Benjamin Gumpert, objected to this line of questioning saying that the defense had not included this in their summary of their interview with Arop they gave to the prosecution.
Judge Schmitt agreed that was the case, but he allowed Obhof to question Arop about what he knew about Ongwen. Judge Schmitt also said, “The defense should strive to provide as much as possible the content of the examination [in the summary]” in the future.
Arop said Ongwen “loved the soldiers beneath him. Even those without ranks, he loved them. Even if you were without a rank, he would stay with you and eat with you without any problem.”
“Was that normal?” asked Obhof.
“There are others [commanders] who were very militaristic … they did not want the junior soldiers to be close to them,” answered Arop.
He concluded his testimony on Monday.