A former “wife” to Dominic Ongwen denied influencing other former “wives” not to harm Ongwen’s case as he prepared for pre-trial hearings at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Florence Ayot told the court on Friday last week that at a June 2015 meeting of former “wives” to Ongwen she did not give Ongwen assurances that the women present at the meeting would be speaking with “one voice.” Ayot said other former “wives” also spoke to Ongwen that day when he called from The Hague, where he has been detained as the proceedings against him continue.
Ongwen is alleged to have committed sexual and gender-based crimes against seven women who are his former “wives” in northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005. In relation to these crimes, Ongwen has been charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is on trial for a total of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed as an LRA commander. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Friday, senior trial lawyer Benjamin Gumpert cross-examined Ayot for the prosecution. He asked her questions about how much Ongwen trusted her when she was his “wife” in the LRA.
“For example, when he was planning to escape with Nyeko Yadin Tolbert he included you in his plans?” asked Gumpert, referring to her testimony on Thursday last week.
“Yes, that’s correct,” replied Ayot.
“And your position in his household was rather a special one because you and he had courted each other, is that right?” asked Gumpert.
“Yes. But he treated all of us [wives] equally,” answered Ayot.
“Of all the people in Dominic Ongwen’s household would you say that you probably knew him the best?” asked Gumpert.
“He treated us all equally. I did not know him any different from the others. He treated us all equally,” replied Ayot.
“But there was a difference because you were the only one who courted Dominic Ongwen. You had fallen in love with him, if I understand your evidence?” asked Gumpert.
“Yes, we did court. The two of us courted,” answered Ayot.
“When you fell in love with him, what are the characteristics of Dominic Ongwen which attracted you to him?” asked Gumpert.
“Well, I was attracted to him because he was a nice person. He was sociable … That is why I decided to go and stay with him because of how he treated his wives,” answered Ayot.
“Was that a strong characteristic of Dominic Ongwen, that he was a just person?” asked Gumpert.
“Yes, he was a just person,” answered Ayot.
Another line of questioning Gumpert pursued was whether Ayot tried to influence the other former “wives” not to harm Ongwen’s defense when his pre-trial proceedings began. Gumpert questioned her about a meeting of former “wives” to Ongwen, which took place on June 2, 2015 at the office of the Justice and Reconciliation Project in Gulu. Ongwen’s confirmation of charges hearing took place in January 2016.
Ayot told the court that during the June 2, 2015 meeting, Ongwen called Agnes Aber, one of his former “wives” on her mobile phone, and he spoke individually to the women present at the meeting. Gumpert played in court five excerpts of a recording of that call. These excerpts were played in private session, but Gumpert’s questions about the content of the conversation between Ongwen and Ayot were asked in open court. The recording was made the Registry.
After Gumpert played the second excerpt he asked a series of questions that led him to putting the proposition to Ayot that she had tried to influence the other former “wives.” Beth Lyons, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, rose to point out that it was important for Ayot to be informed about the risks of self-incrimination. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the point Lyons raised was important.
Judge Schmitt asked Gumpert whether the prosecution could give assurances that Ayot would not be prosecuted if she said anything self-incriminating so long as she was truthful. Gumpert said such a decision was above his pay grade but on his feet, he thought he could give such an assurance. Judge Schmitt then said the matter should be discussed further but in private session. When the proceedings were opened to the public again, Judge Schmitt informed Ayot that the court found it was not necessary she be given any assurances, but she should be informed about the risks of self-incrimination. Gumpert then repeated his earlier question.
“Isn’t the truth that you … had tried to influence women whom Dominic Ongwen considered to be his wives so that they spoke with one voice so that they didn’t harm his defense?” asked Gumpert.
Before Ayot could answer the question, Judge Schmitt intervened again to remind her what self-incrimination meant and that she could choose not to answer the question.
“I have understood, but I reiterate what I said. I did not influence them but I advised them how they should take the children to the father’s [Ongwen’s] home. I did not influence anybody … if this was something that happened then I did not know,” answered Ayot.
In August 2015, judges ordered restrictions on Ongwen’s telephone calls because at the time it was suggested he was trying to influence potential witnesses in the case against him. In August 2016, Judge Schmitt, as the Single Judge of Trial Chamber IX, ordered Ongwen to cease any direct payments to potential witnesses. He also ordered Ongwen to disclose any direct payments that had been made to potential witnesses.
Earlier on Friday, Gumpert asked Ayot about a June 2012 interview she gave to Samuel Okiror, which was published by the IRIN news agency. Gumpert read out the following excerpt from the interview:
“If there was a means government could link me to speak with Dominic, I would request him to abandon, renounce rebellion and apply for amnesty in order for him to come back to reconcile with the community he wronged. He should come out of the bush. Let the ICC spare Dominic and forgive him for his crimes so that he can come home and take care of his children. I know he committed very serious and terrible atrocities. People were killed, maimed, abducted and raped by the rebels. I fear people will revenge on me and my children. I am leaving everything to God.”
“Madam Witness, which were the atrocities that you know Dominic Ongwen committed?” asked Gumpert.
“Whatever I said, I said what the LRA did with reference to [LRA leader Joseph] Kony. Kony was killing people, Kony was mutilating people, Kony was abducting people … We are always fearful about how we are going to raise our kids. Our plea was for him [Ongwen] to come back so that the ICC can forgive and he can get amnesty … We were pleading with them [the government] that they should call our husbands. I cannot say it was only Ongwen who killed all those people,” answered Ayot.
“Madam Witness, much of that may be so, but it is not an answer to my question,” said Gumpert. He then re-read the excerpt in which Ayot was quoted as saying Ongwen committed atrocities.
“Which ones [atrocities] did you have in mind?” asked Gumpert.
“I did not say Ongwen specifically. I said the LRA committed very many atrocities … The person [Okiror] should have actually told them correct things. I said the LRA,” replied Ayot.
Gumpert concluded his questions early on Friday. He had indicated that he would require the whole day to ask Ayot questions, but he finished his cross-examination in the first session of the day. No one had any further questions for Ayot.
Justine Edeku Ooja testified on Monday.