By Tom Maliti
A son of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), described to the International Criminal Court (ICC) life in a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) where he kept to himself, except on Saturdays when a cousin was not in school and could join him in hunting for birds.
Witness D-130 told the court on January 31 he did not have any friends in the IDP camp other than his cousin because many people knew who his father was, and they instructed their children not to play with him. Witness D-130 was the first defense witness to testify this year in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander.
The trial of Ongwen resumed on January 31 after a nearly two-and-a-half-month break. The last hearing was held on November 19 with expert witness Kristof Titeca testifying.
Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in which he is alleged to have had a role. He is alleged to have committed the crimes in northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005.
On January 31, Witness D-130 told the court he ended up in an IDP camp living with a maternal uncle after the Ugandan army attacked the base where he, his siblings, and mother lived with Kony.
He said after the attack, Ugandan army soldiers took him and two of his brothers to a place where other survivors of the attack gathered. Witness D-130 said they were eventually taken to Juba and stayed there for up to a year. He said he was then taken to the Gulu Support the Children Organization (GUSCO), a rehabilitation center for people who had recently left the LRA. He said he did not know where his brothers went. Witness D-130 said he stayed at GUSCO for a year before his uncle came and took him to the IDP camp.
Witness D-130 said in the mornings while other children went to school, “I would go hunting for birds, shooting for birds, and I would go eating mangos, looking for mangos. In the evening I would come back home and sleep.”
Thomas Obhof, one of the lawyers representing Ongwen, asked what the people in the IDP camp said about his father.
“They would insult me. They would tell me “you are so-and-so’s son” and they would call my father’s name. So when they stared speaking to me in such derogatory matters, I would leave, I would go and stay by myself because I was also afraid for my own life,” said Witness D-130.
“Now, do you know if the adults gave any instructions to their children about you?” asked Obhof.
“I suppose so because children are innocent. I believe adults in the lives of these children were instructing the children not to play with me. When I just arrived [at the IDP camp] a ritual was performed, a traditional ritual was performed. I suppose that people asked why this ritual was performed,” said Witness D-130.
Obhof asked the witness whether he had other relatives living at the camp besides his uncle, who was his mother’s brother.
“As far as I know, my mother’s relations were many, but not all of them like me. It was only my uncle who sacrificed and collected me and decided to stay with me. No one reached to see me other than my uncle,” said Witness D-130.
In open court, the witness did not name the IDP camp he lived in nor did he name his uncle or his mother. A lot of his testimony was in private session so that he would not give any identifying information in open court. This was part of the in-court protective measures Trial Chamber IX had granted him. Other measures included his face being distorted in public broadcasts of the hearing.
During his testimony, Witness D-130 did not mention his father’s name, but in a July 5, 2018 decision granting him protective measures together with other witnesses, Single Judge Bertram Schmitt referred to Witness D-130 as a child of Kony. In that decision, Judge Schmitt also said Witness D-130 would be informed that the court cannot make him testify against his father, for whom there is an outstanding ICC arrest warrant. He said this is provided for in Rule 75 of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence.
Judge Schmitt wrote in that decision that one aim of Rule 75 was “to avoid putting a person, who is presumed to have a close relationship with an accused, under undue emotional and moral stress of being forced to provide evidence incriminating the accused.
“The provision aims to protect the integrity of this relationship by avoiding situations where the witness has to choose between telling the truth and protecting his or her relationship with the accused.”
Witness D-130 said that after spending a year living in the IDP camp his mother found him there, and she set about getting him into school. He said she took him to northern Uganda’s principal town, Gulu, where a “reverend sister” paid for him to join a nursery school. He estimated he was seven years old at the time.
Another line of questioning Obhof pursued was more details of Witness D-130’s family.
“Mr. Witness, I know you can possibly never know, but how many children would you estimate that your father has?” asked Obhof.
“Well, my father could start his own clan. He could be having over a hundred children. I would say we are so many that I cannot tell you the number. I don’t know the number. But I also know he is still fathering more children,” replied Witness D-130.
Obhof asked him about his relationship with his siblings. Witness D-130 said he only knew a few of them.
“Some of them [the siblings], they would show to me that that’s your brother, this is your sister, but I don’t know some of them. I only know the few who are living within the town,” answered Witness D-130.
“Now thinking about this, would you ever date an Acholi girl?” asked Obhof.
“I cannot even think about it because I fear – you know, what I know was that my father had so many wives and I think he has, he has children with so many women. My fear is if I begin dating an Acholi girl, I would risk dating my own sister. So, I wouldn’t do that,” replied Witness D-130.
When Obhof concluded questioning Witness D-130, senior trial lawyer Benjamin Gumpert asked him a few questions to clarify his age at the time of the attack on his father’s base.
Witness D-130 said when he was at GUSCO he was told he was four years old, and his mother confirmed this when she found him at the IDP camp.
“So, the recollections you have told the judges about, for example, whether the UPDF gunships were discriminating in their machine-gun fire, these were the recollections of a child of no more than three years old. That’s right, isn’t it?” asked Gumpert.
“I saw these things with my own two eyes. I was physically present and they were firing at us,” replied Witness D-130.
He concluded his testimony on January 31. A transcript of that testimony is available here.
This was first published on the International Justice Monitor.