A former “wife” to Dominic Ongwen told the
International Criminal Court (ICC) that about 16 years ago a senior Lord’s
Resistance Army (LRA) commander plotted with Ongwen to escape the LRA, but
their plan was discovered.
Ayot told the court on Thursday last week that when their escape plan was
discovered Ongwen was demoted, disarmed, and arrested but nothing happened to
the senior LRA commander, Nyeko Yadin. Ayot said there were only four people
who were part of the plan: Yadin, Ongwen, Opio Akula, and herself.
said upon his arrest Ongwen, who was a battalion commander at the time, and his
“wives” were placed under the supervision of deputy LRA leader Vincent Otti for
more than two weeks.
Ayot’s testimony was the first time the court
heard direct testimony about Ongwen attempting to escape the LRA while he was a
commander and then being arrested. Some prosecution witnesses, such as P-045 and P-144, testified that they knew of Ongwen being arrested in the
LRA. They either did not give any details or they did not know why Ongwen was
her testimony on Thursday, Ayot also told the court that she willingly became
Ongwen’s “wife” after her first “husband” died in battle. She said Ongwen never
hit her, and he treated his other “wives” well.
has been charged with directly committing 11 counts of sexual and gender-based
crimes. In total, he has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes
against humanity he is alleged to have committed in northern Uganda between
July 2002 and December 2005. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
said the LRA abducted her when she was about nine years old, but she could not
recall the year she was abducted. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt read her
statement to the defense in which she said she was abducted in 1987. Ayot said
after her abduction she was given military training and she used to fight
alongside LRA women. She said in the LRA she was also known as Min Bak, Bak
being her first-born son. Ayot said she left the LRA in 2005 when she was
captured by Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) soldiers.
During her testimony about the escape plan,
Ayot said she did not know what rank Yadin held in the LRA, but she knew he
held a top “high position.” The Nyeko Yadin Ayot spoke of is most probably
Tolbert Nyeko Yadin. Prosecution Witness P-138 told the court in October 2017 that in 2003 Yadin was the
third-highest-ranking person in the LRA. During the course of the trial,
witnesses and lawyers have called Yadin either Tolbert Yadin Nyeko or Tolbert
Nyeko Yadin or Nyeko Tolbert Yadin or just Nyeko Yadin.
told the court that it was some time in 2003 Yadin proposed an escape plan to
Ongwen. She said she could not remember when exactly Yadin and Ongwen first
discussed the plan. Ayot estimated it was more than three months after Ongwen
had left the sick bay following an injury to his leg he got during a UPDF
ambush. Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s lawyers, asked Ayot about their attempt
to escape the LRA.
Witness, was there ever a time when you were with Dominic that you planned to
escape with Mr. Ongwen?” asked Obhof.
I tried,” replied Ayot.
anyone help you and Dominic with this escape plan?” asked Obhof.
was Nyeko Yadin. Dominic told me that he was planning with him. I was just
informed,” answered Ayot.
you know any reason why Nyeko Yadin would have approached Mr. Ongwen with an
escape plan?” asked Obhof.
used to say there is no benefit of staying there [in the LRA],” replied Ayot.
you remember from where Nyeko Yadin hailed?” asked Obhof.
was from Amuru district. I have forgotten the exact village,” answered Ayot.
district does Mr. Ongwen come from?” asked Obhof.
district,” replied Ayot.
said Opio Akula was sent ahead as a scout before she, Yadin, and Ongwen made
their escape. She said when Akula did not report back to them, Yadin left her
did not take long, Dominic was arrested. Otti sent a message that Dominic was
wanted and summoned him … That evening Otti said that Dominic had plans to
escape. He removed his weapon. Took away his escorts, and he was left only with
the wives,” said Ayot.
asked her whether she got to know how their plan was discovered.
did not know how [LRA leader Joseph] Kony knew and sent Otti to summon Dominic
… He [Ongwen] was in imprisonment for more than two weeks,” replied Ayot.
little later Obhof read back to her a portion of her statement in which she
described why Akula was sent ahead to scout for them. In her statement to the
defense Ayot said Akula was sent to find out whether the amnesty the government
had offered members of the LRA was true and also determine the best escape
route to use. Obhof asked Ayot whether she remembered saying this.
I remember,” answered Ayot.
is that one of the other reasons why they [Yadin and Ongwen] sent Opio Akula to
scout first?” asked Obhof.
was the reason that Opio never returned,” replied Ayot.
also asked Ayot whether after Ongwen’s arrest Otti threatened him. She said she
did not know what the officers may have discussed with each other. Obhof then
read back to her her statement in which she said Otti had told Ongwen if he and
Ayot tried to escape again he would make an example of them to the rest of the
LRA. In that statement she also said that Otti warned them that if they
successfully escaped he [Otti] would kill everyone in their villages. Obhof
asked Ayot whether she recalled saying that.
recall very well,” replied Ayot.
is that true, how it is written?” asked Obhof.
it is true,” answered Ayot.
Witness you said Nyeko Yadin left. Do you know or did you ever come to know why
Yadin was never arrested?” asked Obhof.
do not know,” replied Ayot.
than Yadin, yourself, Mr. Ongwen, and Opio Akula, did anyone else know about
the escape plan?” asked Obhof.
Mr. Ongwen, to the best of your knowledge, tell any of his co-wives about the
escape plan?” asked Obhof.
do not know,” replied Ayot.
also asked Ayot about how she became a “wife” to Ongwen. She said was a “wife”
to a commander called Kijura who was killed in battle. Ayot said she remained
alone for about a month before she was asked to live in the household of Otti.
She said it was some time after that she and Ongwen courted, and she agreed to
be his “wife.” She said for that to happen they had to inform the adjutant of
the unit Ongwen was part of. She said the adjutant is the one who then took the
issue to the higher ups in the LRA. Ayot told the court that it was at this
time the LRA adopted a policy allowing widows to choose their husbands.
asked her how long after Kijura’s death did she and Ongwen start courting.
would like to say when you are in the bush you will not be cognisant about how
long you have taken. You just live by the day,” replied Ayot.
other qualities did you like or dislike about Mr. Ongwen during this courtship?”
loved him because of the way he would live with people. He lived so freely with
people … He was not quarrelsome. There was nothing I disliked about him,”
asked her about Ongwen’s relationship with her son, Bak, whose father was
Kijura. She said anyone who saw Bak and Ongwen together “would not know he
[Ongwen] was not Bak’s father.” She said they spent a lot of time together, and
by the time Bak died, “he did not get to know that Ongwen was not his father.”
said when she joined Ongwen’s household he already had three other “wives.” She
said they were called Jennifer; Santa, who was also known as Min Tata; and
you came there, how did he treat those other women?” asked Obhof.
I saw he treated them well. We lived together … if you were not told that we
were co-wives, you would not know that we were,” replied Ayot.
told the court after she became his “wife,” Ongwen got other “wives.” She said
they were Agnes Aber, who was also called Min Ayari; Fatuma; and Nancy Abwot.
your time in the bush how many times do you remember Mr. Ongwen beating you?”
never touched me with a stick,” replied Ayot.
he beat you with his hands or his fist?” asked Judge Schmitt.
he never beat me in any way,” answered Ayot.
you ever see Mr. Ongwen strike Bak, beat Bak with either his fist or his
hands?” asked Obhof.
He never. I never saw him beat him. They loved staying together. He loved being
with him when he is at home,” replied Ayot.
Obhof asked Ayot to compare Ongwen’s relationship with his “wives” with her
experience living with Kijura as well as her observation of other households in
your opinion as someone who had had two husbands, how well did Mr. Ongwen
fulfill his duties to you and the co-wives?” asked Obhof.
fulfilled his duties well because there was no tension,” replied Ayot.
what you saw of others in other households were there problems in other
households which your household did not experience?” asked Obhof.
did not experience any problem, we lived happily together,” answered Ayot.
sexual and gender-based crimes Ongwen is alleged to have directly committed
involve seven women who were formerly his “wives.” The 11 counts of war crimes
and crimes against humanity against Ongwen include forced marriage, torture,
rape, sexual slavery, enslavement, and outrage upon personal dignity.
seven women testified during the pre-trial phase of the proceedings against
Ongwen. Trial Chamber IX adopted the record of their pre-trial testimony as
part of the trial record under Article 56 of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s
trial lawyer Benjamin Gumpert questioned Ayot on Friday.
was first published on the International