A retired Ugandan army soldier told the International Criminal Court (ICC) Dominic Ongwen was not in the eastern Ugandan sub-region of Teso when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was active there about 16 years ago.
Emmanuel Ewicho, who described himself as a spy, told the court on Tuesday that he worked with the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and the Arrow Boys, a militia group the UPDF supported in Teso. He testified that Ongwen was not among the LRA commanders they knew were active in Teso in 2003.
“Dominic Ongwen was not in Teso. We did a thorough investigation to understand who were these commanders in Teso, but Dominic Ongwen was not one of them. That is the truth, and that is the reason as to why I am in this court. I do not believe Dominic Ongwen was in Teso because I was a spy,” Ewicho told the court.
He said if Ongwen had been in Teso then he would have been among the LRA commanders killed in Anyara, “because we had a really dangerous army that was ready to fight the rebels.”
“For emphasis, that gentleman Dominic Ongwen was not there. It was later that I heard on radio that Dominic Ongwen had been arrested and that he was in ICC. We were not happy about that because we knew Dominic Ongwen was not a killer,” said Ewicho.
Ongwen is on trial for crimes he is alleged to have committed as an LRA commander in mostly the Gulu, Pader, and Oyam districts of northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005. He has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity to which he has pleaded not guilty to.
Teso does not fall in the geographical scope of the charges against Ongwen, but during the prosecution phase of the trial, several prosecution witnesses spoke about LRA activities in Teso, including Ongwen being present there. The prosecution has argued this evidence provided context to the charges against Ongwen.
The defense objected to this evidence. The defense also countered it and questioned those prosecution witnesses about whether they were sure Ongwen was in Teso, such as Witness P-200. The defense contention is that Ongwen was not in Teso in 2003 when the LRA was active there.
Ewicho is the first defense witness to categorically say he knew Ongwen was not present in Teso in 2003. However, earlier this year, witness Julius Ochen, testified that former abductees of the LRA he spoke to did not name Ongwen as one of the LRA commanders active in the eastern Uganda region of Teso 15 years ago.
At the start of his testimony on Tuesday, Ewicho told the court that during the time the LRA was active in Teso, he was chairperson of veterans in his village, Amoru. He said he had served as a soldier in the UPDF between 1992 and 2003 when he retired.
The prosecution did not cross-examine Ewicho nor did any of the lawyers representing victims question him.
Ewicho concluded his testimony on Tuesday. Witness D-85 will be the next witness and is scheduled to testify on September 5.
A transcript of Tuesday’s testimony can be found here.