A Fifth Defense Witness Says Ongwen Was Not in Teso

A fifth defense witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Dominic Ongwen was not in the eastern Uganda sub-region of Teso when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was active in the area 16 years ago.

Justine Edeku Ooja told the court on Monday the LRA did not stay long in Teso because the government-backed militia, the Arrow Boys, repulsed them from the sub-region. Ooja said he became a member of the Arrow Boys soon after the LRA launched attacks in Teso, and he remained in the militia until he became an officer of the Internal Security Organization, one of Uganda’s intelligence agencies.

The trial of Ongwen, a former LRA commander, is focused on 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed in northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005. None of the charges against Ongwen cover Teso. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

On Monday, Ooja told the court the Arrow Boys was formed in response to the LRA attacks in Teso, and there were only a few Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) soldiers present in the area. Ooja said the LRA killed civilians, raped women, and cut people’s body parts. He told the court the LRA entered Teso in June 2003 and was defeated sometime in 2004.

He said the militia group was called the Arrow Boys, but they only recruited men who were 18 years and above. Ooja said the group was made up of former soldiers and civilians, and they received training and uniforms from the government. He also said they were paid a monthly salary of 6,000 Ugandan shillings.

Ooja said he took part in a battle in Obulubulu during which the Arrow Boys killed an LRA commander called Opio.

“He was very notorious,” said Ooja.

He also said they killed another commander known as Nono. Ooja said that LRA’s overall commander in Teso, Charles Tabuley, was killed in Anyara by the Arrow Boys.

“It was a very dangerous battle. The UPDF refused to reinforce us,” said Ooja.

“Dominic Ongwen did not come to Teso. The only person who came to Teso, according to our intelligence, was [the then LRA deputy leader] Vincent Otti,” said Ooja.

He told the court that the Arrow Boys fought a fierce battle with the LRA contingent Otti was leading.

“They overpowered us, but we asked for reinforcements … That is why Otti survived,” said Ooja.

Apart from Ooja, four other defense witnesses have testified that Ongwen was not in Teso. They are Richard Ebuju; Julius Ochen; Emmanuel Ewicho; and Charles Opio. Two other defense witnesses testified they heard Ongwen was ordered to Teso to get LRA fighters after Tabuley’s death. They are John Mawa Okello and Michael Okwir.

Teso is not one of the regions Ongwen has been charged with committing crimes in. However, the prosecution elicited evidence from some of its witnesses, arguing evidence of what Ongwen is alleged to have done in Teso provided context to the crimes he has been charged with. Whenever prosecution witnesses testified about Teso and what Ongwen is alleged to have done there, the defense protested the relevance of that evidence. The defense also denied that Ongwen had been to Teso during his time with the LRA.

Ooja told the court that after the LRA left Teso, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni pledged that each of the members of the Arrow Boys would be given iron sheets and some money to purchase cement to help rebuild their homes.

“But after the war up to now, to my disappointment the government have not honored the pledges. Those who have died in the battlefield have not been compensated up to now,” said Ooja.

Thomas Obhof questioned Ooja on behalf of the defense. The prosecution said they did not wish to cross-examine him. Anushka Sehmi, a lawyer for one of the groups of victims, questioned Ooja.

“Could you tell the court whether people moved to these camps voluntarily?” asked Sehmi.

“People moved to the camps voluntarily because of the safety, and they knew the people guarding them in these camps were their children, sons of the area,” replied Ooja.

“Could you describe what the living conditions were like?” asked Sehmi.

“They were tense. Because in the camp you don’t live like you are living in your home. You have to be escorted to even get firewood. You have to be given water. You have to supplied with posho, beans … There was violation of human rights … you could find soldiers could lure the young girls, that is defiling,” answered Ooja.

“Were children able to go to school?” asked Sehmi.

“Not all of them were able to go school … Most of the times you could hear gunshots. … There was no proper education by then,” replied Ooja.

He concluded his testimony on Monday. The next hearing is scheduled for October 14.