By Susan Kendi
How does a man with more than 30 wives talk about the relations of his spouses? He does not, a witness told the International criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday, November 1, 2017.
Witness P-0138 told the court that Lord’s Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony did not talk about his in-laws as he had more than 30 wives. Under cross-examination by lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, who is representing former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen, balked when questioned about whether or not Kony talked about his brother-in-law or any in-laws.
This is the second prosecution witness who has been questioned about Kony mentioning his in-laws. Witness P-0172, Ray Apire, testifying on Tuesday, September 26, 2017, told the three-judge bench that constitutes Trial Chamber IX, that he knew of Ongwen in 1992 during the Christmas season when everyone in the bush was called, gathered around and Kony referred to Ongwen as his brother-in-law. He added that at that time, Atom Lily, Ongwen’s sister, had been captured and she was sent to Kony during Christmas.
Here is an excerpt of the questioning of Witness P-0138 by lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo.
Odongo: Do you know Lilly Atom?
Witness: No, I don’t.
Odongo: I would surprise you that Lilly Atom is Kony’s wife and a sister to Ongwen. Taking one’s gun, what would it mean?
Witness: When one is disarmed, it depends with infraction you have committed. It equates to demoting somebody.
Odongo: Could it also mean that you were suspected to have communication with the (UPDF) soldiers?
Witness: In my observation one is disarmed if they are thinking of escaping and the gun would be taken. On other occasions, if they (LRA) realize that you want to escape you are killed but those are some of the reasons I know why they disarm someone.
Odongo read out some names to the witness before the cross-examination continued
Witness: Acellam Pa, according to my knowledge, he was gifted in operating RPG. That was his best gun. His name means that he is equivalent to 10 other people. He could face 10 people as an individual. Ceaser Acellam was a colonel. He was part of the commanders in Control Altar.
Odongo: Sam Otto Kolo?
Witness: Otto Kolo was also a colonel. He was good at being a spokesman. People who heard BBC would hear him. He talked on radio when attacks happened. He was in Control Altar.
Odongo: Jimmy Ochile?
Witness: He was also a colonel and CPA. I do not know what the CPA means but he was part of the Control Altar.
Odongo: Mr Witness, according to your testimony, at that time Buk Abudema was Dominic Ongwen’s brigade commander?
Witness: Yes, he was.
Odongo: The people whose names I mentioned are the ones who constituted the attack in Pajule. They sound like seniors in the LRA.
Witness: Yes, they were high-ranking people in the LRA.
Odongo: The rest, who participated were selected and given orders to go perform a function not because they planned to do it?
Witness: Yes, that is what would happen within the LRA.
Odongo: Your Honours, that is end of the defence case.
Judge Bertram Schmitt: Mr Witness, we wish you a safe trip.
By Terry Jeff Odhiambo
Gambia stands as a testament to the glacial progress Africa is making in the sphere of human rights. With the country on the mend and efforts under way to bring former President Yahya Jammeh to justice, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights could scarcely have found a better host country to hold its 30th anniversary.
The celebrations in Banjul, between November 1 and 4, 2017, come at a time of hope and restoration for the Gambia after the end of Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorial regime. Jammeh’s government was notorious for its disregard of international human rights norms despite ironically hosting the ACHPR. Arbitrary arrests, threats, enforced disappearances and torture were commonplace. There is still plenty of room for improvement. Attorney General Abubacarr Tambadou, who is also Justice Minister, told the opening of the 35th Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR that notwithstanding the various strides made by nations in the application of human rights instruments, the full enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms since the adoption of the African Charter, continues to face challenges. The Justice minister reiterated that the new government of Gambia had reaffirmed its commitment to protecting human rights and to living up to its position as the human rights capital of Africa. As recently as September 2017 the Gambia, signed five international treaties on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which seeks to abolish abolition the death penalty. In the coming months, Gambia is committed to ratifying more human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and adopting a new republican constitution within the shortest time possible and developing a system of justice that can look into past atrocities and sustain its democracy. The NGOs Forum, which is usually held on the margins of the ACHPR Ordinary Sessions, is a platform for fostering collaboration between civil society organisations on the one hand and the ACHPR on the other, with the aim of promoting and protecting human rights in Africa.
Human rights abuses in Africa are a sad reality. The tableau of human suffering on the continent is scar on humanity’s conscience. From South Sudan, to the Central African Republic to Egypt and Ethiopia, abuses are increasingly being witnessed more than ever before. As one of the bulwarks against this depressing trend, the work of the ACHPR since its inception calls for evaluation. The promise by states and governments to guarantee human dignity and rights – through almost universal endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ever-increasing ratification of international human rights treaties – seems to have had little impact on the daily lives of millions of people in the region.
The sad reality is that the human rights situation in various African countries continues to deteriorate on the ACHPR’s watch. There has been an escalation of threats to the enjoyment of human rights on the continent, ranging from arbitrary arrests, infringement of freedom of association and assembly, police brutality and threats to human rights defenders.
Since the inception of the ACHPR, seven states have never reported on the situation of human rights to the commission. The states -- Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and South Sudan -- continue to witness some of gravest human rights violations on the continent. Twenty other states have three or more pending state reports -- including Gambia, while 16 other states have one or two pending state reports. Only nine states, namely Kenya, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger and South Africa are up to date with their state reporting obligations. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Niger are set to report during the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. State reporting procedure is a stock taking that serves as a forum for constructive dialogue and enables the Commission to monitor implementation of the African Charter and identify challenges impeding the realisation of the objects of the African Charter.
Some of the critiques that the Commission has received over time include the failure to implement its findings, such as decisions on: individual communications, concluding observations on State reports, country and thematic resolutions, and recommendations made in relation to missions to countries.
The 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR will see the swearing in of new commissioners and the exit of those whose terms have ended. The ACHPR is composed of 11 Commissioners, who are “chosen from amongst African personalities of the highest reputation, known for their high morality, integrity, impartiality and competence in matters of human and peoples’ rights; particular consideration being given to persons having legal experience” (African Charter, Article 31). They are elected by the African Union Assembly from experts nominated by States parties to the Charter. The Commissioners serve in their personal capacity and are elected for a six-year renewable term.
The upcoming 30th Anniversary celebrations are an opportunity to reaffirm the values and enduring principles enshrined in the African Charter mobilize people around the continent, and take stock of human rights today in Africa.
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