Evelyn Amony, a former “wife” of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony, described to the International Criminal Court (ICC) life under Kony during the 10 or so years she lived with him.
Amony told the court on Monday she joined Kony’s household when she was 12 years old and was a ting ting for two years before Kony made her his “wife.” She said she remained with Kony until she was captured by the Ugandan army. Ting ting was the term used in the LRA for pre-pubescent girls who did house chores and babysat the children of commanders.
She was testifying in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander. Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed between July 2002 and December 2005 in northern Uganda. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Monday, Amony said she first met Ongwen shortly after her abduction in 1994. She said when the LRA abducted her she was 12 years old.
“In 1994 when we were going to Sudan that is when I came to know Dominic Ongwen. And the reason I got to know Dominic Ongwen, we were trying to cross a river, and I was being taken by the water and he was one of the people who helped me to cross the river,” said Amony.
In response to a question Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt asked her, Amony said she guessed Ongwen may have been 14 or 15 years old at the time.
“If they had not interceded when you were crossing the river what would have happened to you?” asked Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s lawyers.
“Well, there are many people who came to help me. There was Joseph Kony. There was Dominic Ongwen. If they had not interceded then the river would have carried me. I had already swallowed a lot of water,” replied Amony.
She said after that first meeting, she did not see much of Ongwen because he was in a different brigade. She said she saw less of him once she became a “wife” to Kony.
“Can you describe his [Ongwen’s] personality that you observed while in Sudan?” asked Obhof.
“Based on my observation he was somebody who liked children. He would greet me in a jolly manner, and as far as I was concerned, he was somebody who loved people,” answered Amony.
“You say Dominic loved children. Did he play with your children?” asked Obhof.
“Well, the child that I was talking about was me because at the time I did not have a child, then there were rules. So, at the time he was not allowed to come and play with me or joke with me because you are not allowed to joke and play with someone’s wife,” answered Amony.
“What would be the punishment for somebody who would come and play with somebody’s wife?” asked Obhof.
“You would be beaten. That person would be beaten. If you went to play with somebody’s wife, you would be beaten,” answered Amony. She then explained that as Kony’s wife she could not just get up and go to visit someone in a different brigade.
“If you wanted to go somewhere else you had to go and ask for permission and give detailed reasons as to why you wanted to go to a different brigade,” said Amony.
She said one day when the LRA were in Palotaka, Kony called her and said that from that day she will be his “wife.” Amony said she was 14 years old at the time. She said she told Kony that was not possible because when she became a member of his household, he had told her he is her father. Amony told the court she ran away to another commander, but he told her she could not stay with him because Kony would kill him. She said Kony sent his escorts to get her from that commander’s place.
“From there they took me to Kony’s home. They started beating me. After that he pressured me and had sex with me,” said Amony. She told the court that he told her to blame her parents for giving birth to a beautiful girl.
“Do you recall how you felt at the time?” asked Judge Schmitt.
“I felt very bad because first of all he was an adult, not young anymore. When you compare my age and his age, he was an old person,” replied Amony.
She told the court that when she joined Kony’s household he had about 60 women and girls in his household. She said 27 out of the 60 females were women who were mothers to Kony’s children. Amony said most of the balance were ting ting just as she was.
Later Obhof asked her about her time after leaving the LRA when peace talks between the Ugandan government and LRA began in 2006. Amony said a local administrator told her that she had been identified as important to the talks and asked her to persuade Kony to take part in the talks. She said this meant her going back to the LRA and Kony initially refused to let her go once she had talked to him about participating in the talks. She said he did not let two other women leave. Amony said they had also been sent back to the LRA to persuade him to participate in the talks.
“How is it that you came back [to Uganda]?” asked Obhof.
“Well, I had my own way. I deceived Kony and told him that when I returned, I got a certain man, a soldier, who was in a relationship and I got HIV. For him he fears this thing of HIV/AIDS, so he allowed me to come back home,” replied Amony.
Shkelzen Zeneli, who cross-examined Amony for the prosecution, questioned her about the two times she did not participate in beating or killing a person who had failed in their attempt to escape the LRA. Zeneli also asked her about instances when she defied Kony. He also asked her about the several attempts she made to escape the LRA. Amony gave details about those attempts, including her last one before the Ugandan army captured her in 2004. She said during her last attempt she was in Juba and a nun offered her an opportunity to escape, but she gave birth to a child and could not get on the helicopter that was to take her away.
“So madam witness even though you were so close to Kony, for 11 years, even though he had warned you not to escape, even though the security around his house was so tight, even though he had tried to kill you, even though he talked to spirits you still tried to escape, correct?” asked Zeneli.
“Correct, but in most occasions I tried to escape he would not be nearby, he would not be close. For instance, that time [her last attempt to escape] he was in Uganda and I was in Juba,” replied Amony.
“You stood up to Kony, correct?” asked Zeneli.
“Correct,” answered Amony.
“And today Madam you are raising your children, isn’t that correct?” asked Zeneli.
“Correct,” replied Amony.
“Not only are you raising your children you are helping to raise others’ children as well, correct?” asked Zeneli.
“Correct,” replied Amony.
“You are even writing books?” asked Zeneli, referring her memoir, I am Evelyn Amony: Reclaiming My Life From The Lord’s Resistance Army.
“Correct,” answered Amony.
Anushka Sehmi, a lawyer for one group of victims in the trial of Ongwen, also questioned Amony.
“Madam Witness, could you please tell the court what your life was before you were abducted?” asked Sehmi.
“Thank you. Before my abduction, I was a child who was growing [up] with my parents. I saw my future was bright, but once I was abducted, my future changed,” replied Amony.
Sehmi also asked Amony whether she had any injuries or ailments from her time with the LRA.
“I have pain in my chest, quite often I experience this pain. Ever since … I get frequent urge to go for urination. This is part of the problem I came back with from the bush,” answered Amony.
At some point Judge Schmitt asked Amony whether she faced stigma in her home village or elsewhere in Uganda.
“Your honor, the problem depends where you are coming from because there are areas where there was a massacre … They just discriminate you. They just stigmatize you. Secondly, in the villages you cannot get odd jobs that you can do and earn some money,” answered Amony. She said in towns one can get jobs to earn a living and also people in towns did not know you. Amony said that stigma did not just affect anyone who had been in the LRA.
“Our culture shows that children belong to the clan of their fathers. Some of them [the clan of a father) we find. Some of them we do not find. These children who do not get to know their clans [do not know their identity],” said Amony, referring to children who were born when their mothers were in the LRA.
Obhof asked some questions in re-examination, and then Amony’s testimony concluded on Monday. Witness D-13 is scheduled to testify on Thursday.
At the end of her testimony, Judge Schmitt told Amony that the chamber was aware it was difficult for her to testify openly and honestly about her experience in the LRA and “that you did so today shows strength, courage, and commitment and is a big personal achievement.”