By Tom Maliti, IJ Monitor
A childhood friend of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), told the International Criminal Court (ICC) how Kony’s character changed once he became involved in the rebellion in northern Uganda in the mid-1980s.
Lakoch Par Oyoo told the court on Monday that Kony was a happy person before he started fighting the Ugandan government. Oyoo said Kony became rude and ferocious after spending some time in the northern Uganda rebellion.
Oyoo was testifying in the trial of a former LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, which resumed after a 19-day break. Ongwen has been charged for his alleged role in attacks on four camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. The camps he is alleged to have had a role in attacking between 2003 and 2004 are Abok, Lukodi, Odek, and Pajule. In total, he faces 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Monday, Oyoo testified about the attack on Odek, where he was living. He is a dual status witness, meaning he is testifying as a prosecution witness but is also registered as victim in the Ongwen trial.
Unlike most prosecution witnesses who have testified to date, Oyoo did not require any protective measures, such as a pseudonym to protect his identity. He answered questions via video link from Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
Trial lawyer Paul Bradfield did not have many questions for Oyoo on Monday because he agreed to have his statement to prosecution investigators admitted as evidence, so it is considered his testimony before the court. He is the second witness do so.
Oyoo’s statement was admitted as evidence and treated as his testimony in line with a provision in Rule 68 of the ICC’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Trial Chamber IX decided in December last year to accept the statements of 14 prosecution witnesses to be admitted in this fashion.
Rule 68(3) allows for this to happen if the witness is in court, accepts that the statement be admitted into evidence as their testimony, and all lawyers and judges are able to question the witness. This is what happened when Oyoo testified on Monday.
Bradfield asked Oyoo on Monday to confirm whether a document presented to him was his statement, including the signature. Oyoo said it was his statement. Bradfield also asked Oyoo to confirm whether a sketch presented to him was a drawing he made of Odek camp as it was during the LRA attack in April 2004. Oyoo said it was.
He then asked Oyoo a few questions to clarify certain elements of the sketch. Bradfield also questioned Oyoo about some details about the attack on Odek such as what kind of wounds the dead or injured had. Oyoo said they all had gunshot wounds.
Oyoo told the court that he lost two brothers during the attack on Odek. He said one of the boys the LRA abducted during the attack, but who managed to escape some days later, told him his brothers were killed by the LRA.
“We have not heard from them till today, so I believe the information that person gave us was correct,” said Oyoo.
Once Bradfield concluded his questions, Joseph Akwenyu Manoba, asked Oyoo some questions. Manoba is the lead lawyer for one group of victims, including Oyoo, in the trial.
Manoba asked Oyoo to describe life in the camp before the attack. Oyoo said it “was not very good.” He said that because he knew the LRA looked to abduct youngsters, he sent his children to the town where he believed they would be safer. He did not name the town though.
“When Odek camp was initially set up, the government did not provide us with food. We would leave the camp and go to collect food from Awere camp,” Oyoo said.
He also said the night-time curfew in Odek was strict.
“The protection that we had in the camp wasn’t easy. Between four and six (in the evening), you would have to go inside your house … You had to wait until nine am before leaving the camp,” Oyoo told the court.
When Manoba concluded his questions, Abigail Bridgman, a lawyer representing Ongwen, cross-examined Oyoo. Generally, in Ongwen’s trial, the defense is usually given about the same time as the prosecution to question a prosecution witness. However, Bridgman was given more time than the prosecution to question Oyoo because his statement was admitted as evidence and taken to be his testimony.
After asking Oyoo some personal questions about his family and where he was born, Bridgman asked him about Kony.
“Now, Mr Witness, you grew up with Joseph Kony, is that correct?” asked Bridgman.
“Yes, we grow up together,” Oyoo answered. He later said, “We knew each other very well.”
Bridgman asked Oyoo whether Kony went to join the rebellion in northern Uganda on April 1, 1987 because he felt aggrieved.
“Perhaps, it was his plan or God’s plan, which made him go to the bush. Not that something bad had happened that made him go to the bush. No,” Oyoo said.
A little later Bridgman asked him if Kony was an ajwaka, an Acholi word that refers to someone who is a spirit medium.
“Kony tried to be an ajwaka, but afterwards he abandoned it. He started concentrating on his fighting role,” said Oyoo.
Sometime later Bridgman returned to the issue of Kony being an ajwaka.
“Do you know if before Kony went to the bush he could heal the sick?” asked Bridgman.
“Yes, Kony was performing some healing rituals,” Oyoo replied.
“Lift curses placed on people?”
“At the time when he was still an ajwaka, yes, he would still do that,” said Oyoo.
Another line of questioning Bridgman pursued was about Kony’s character.
“You knew him quite well. In your opinion, did he change? Did he change his character?” Bridgman asked.
“Very many things changed because when Kony was still at home he was a happy person. When he went to the bush he became a very rude person,” Oyoo said. In answer to a different question, Oyoo described Kony as being “ferocious” once he went to fight the Ugandan government.
Oyoo told the court that Kony decided to fight when a spirit told him to do so.
“When the spirit came to Kony in the night, the next day in the morning he started telling people in the village that at some point people should gather at their home. So, people gathered at his home and he told them that information,” Oyoo said.
Bridgman asked whether the female spirit, Sili Silindi, was the one that told him to go and fight.
“He was talking not only about this one spirit, but he said he had several spirits, and the spirits were telling him to go and fight. Sili Silindi was one of the many spirits,” replied Oyoo. He said other spirits he remembered Kony talking about were Juma Oris, King Bruce, Who Are You, and Bianca.
Oyoo said some time after his announcement to the village, Kony left with nine other people to fight the Ugandan government. He said they left the village unarmed but later got arms elsewhere.
Bridgman concluded her questioning of the witness on Monday. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said Witness P-144 is scheduled to begin testifying on Tuesday.
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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