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Witness tells ICC judges how he twice missed death by a whisker

Journalists For Justice / 30 January 2018

 By Susan Kendi

On the morning of June 24, 2003, neighbours passing by his home told Witness P-200 that Lord Resistance Army (LRA) fighters had been spotted using a road nearby.

He dragged his two children out of his compound and tried to escape with his family to Aswa swamp but they met five people: Dominic Ongwen and some boys. His family members were beaten and he was brought back to his home.

He got five million Ugandan shillings that he had counted on June 23 and 24, 2003 which was taken by the LRA and then he was made to carry a box full of drugs that they moved with and distributed to other group members who went to Abia.

Witness P-200, a former LRA fighter, told the International Criminal Court in prosecution testimony against Ongwen that he was lined up twice to be killed but Ongwen always stopped the killing before his turn came.

The first time, six abductees were selected then three were killed before Ongwen ordered the LRA fighters to stop. The second time, they lined up four abductees and killed three of them -- and just before his turn, the fighters were ordered to stop.

As he narrated his abduction, the witness cried uncontrollably forcing the Presiding Judge, Bertram Schmitt, to call for a break.

Here are excerpts of the exchange between Prosecutor Beti Hohler and Witness P-200 on Monday, January 22, 2018:

Hohler: How did you come to spend time with the LRA?

Witness: On June 24, 2003 I was abducted by Dominic Ongwen and that’s how I ended up in the LRA.

Hohler:  Can you explain to us in your own words and in a little more detail what happened that day you were abducted?

Witness: We met with five people. Dominic Ongwen with other boys, small boys. And my family members were beaten. I was brought back to my home, got five million (Uganda) shillings that I had counted on June, 23, 2003 to June 24, 2003 and made to carry a box full of drugs. We moved with the drugs and distributed them to other group members who went to Abia.

Hohler: You said you moved from your compound trying to escape with your family. Where did you go?

Witness: Aswa Swamp (Witness begins crying uncontrollably)

Hohler: That is okay, Mr Witness.

Judge Bertram Schmitt: We have a break. We stop this here, have a psychological assessment and try to stabilize the witness then we can continue. If not, we can stop there.

(The court session resumes after a short break)

Judge Schmitt: Mr Witness, I hope you feel better. You have taken an oath before the chamber to narrate what you have in your mind. Whenever you need a break, you can have it. If you can, please continue.

Witness: Make it clear I have not understood the question.

Judge Schmitt: You told us before the break what happened to you. Please tell us what you would like to tell the court before you were abducted so that judges and participates can picture what happened during that time.

Witness: (Repeating his previous statement) It was on June 24, 2003 when someone passed through my compound and asked, You are still in and the rebels have been seen passing on a road nearby? I left my compound and moved with my family members. I carried two kids and we moved towards the (Aswa) swamp. We met with five people. Dominic Ongwen with other boys and my family members were beaten. I was brought back home to my home, got five million (Uganda) shillings that I had counted on June, 23, 2003 to June 24, 2003 and they made me carry a box full of drugs. We moved with the drugs and distributed them to other group members who went to Abia … The first time, they picked six of us (abductees) and they killed three and he ordered them to stop (The witness starts crying then tries to compose himself). That was the first time. The second time, they picked four of us and killed three and they were ordered to stop. We moved then I tried to escape, he pierced me on my side with a bayonet. (Witness starts crying).

Judge Schmitt: Simply try to calm down. Let’s stay in the courtroom. I believe you can continue. Then after this narrative we can take a longer break.

Witness: After piercing the sides ….

Hohler: Your Honour, it is not my intent to show the wounds of the witness in Court.

Witness: He asked abductees to carry me till River Peche. As we were crossing, I moved three steps aside, when I moved I let my nose a little out for breathing then turned my ear to hear if they had crossed the river. I waited for some time, since for them, they don’t cross at once. I waited until they had all crossed then I went offshore. They came back to look for me. They stepped on the grass around the river. I stayed there until they left then started walking. I met with a civilian who had an axe and he wanted to finish me. Then I met with another civilian who carried me on his bicycle from Palenga and took me to Palenga barracks. I was given porridge then they (government soldiers) took to me to Bobi brigade then World Vision from there to Lacho then Soroti then to Mulago then I later reunited with my family.

Hohler: Your Honours, I would like to ask for a 45-minute or an hour’s break so that I can ask the necessary questions.

(Defence lawyers Charles Taku stands up)

Judge Bertram Schmitt: Yes, Mr Taku.

Taku: Most of the elements of the testimony of this witness are not contained in the instrument in what Mr Ongwen is being charged with.

(Judge Schmitt gives prosecution a chance to respond)

Hohler: This witness testimony is not expanding the scope of the case. It entails the contextual element, position of authority of the accused at the time and [Sexual Gender Based Violence] SGBV crimes. I believe the court has ruled on this a couple of times. According to the defence statement, on the cooperation of witnesses, Mr Witness is cooperating the best he can.

Judge Schmitt: Short ruling by the chamber. We have done this before. The chamber will consider appropriate use of this evidence. In cooperation of the witness, it is clear. Mr Witness, you will respond to the questions addressed to you both by the prosecution and defence. This is the process in a courtroom and there is no indication that the witness will not answer any question by defence.

(Court takes a break then resumes with Prosecutor Beti Hohler questioning the witness)

Judge Schmitt: Thank you, Mr Witness. At the moment, it is not going to be easy but you can to help the court establish the truth and this means that we follow some procedure in questioning by the prosecution then defence.

Hohler: The children that you saw with Ongwen, how were they dressed?

Witness: I saw them carrying guns.

Hohler: Do you know what kind of guns?

Witness: I forgot.

Hohler: In the group you stayed within the LRA, were there children present in the group?

Witness: Yes.

Hohler: How old were the youngest children you saw when you were with them?

Witness: The youngest was like 12 years.

Hohler: And were these 12-year-olds armed? Did they carry weapons?

Witness: Yes.

Hohler: What were the tasks of these children in this group? What did you see them doing?

Witness: They attack.

Hohler: When you say they attack, what tasks during an attack did they have?

Witness: Abduction, burning houses, looting.

Hohler: Who gave them instructions to do this?

Witness: It was our commander, Dominic Ongwen

Hohler: What about when your group is moving from one location to another, what did they do then?

Witness: They guarded the abducted.

Hohler: Did you see these children trained in your group?

Witness: Yes, they trained them in the bushes.

Hohler: Did you see this with your own eyes?

Witness: Yes.

Hohler: Do you think of one training and describe to us what they were being trained or taught of?

Witness: Parade, how to dismantle and put back the gun.

Hohler: Where was Dominic Ongwen when these people were being trained?

Witness: He was with us because he was our commander.

Hohler: Anything else you saw the children being trained in?

Witness: That is all I remember.

Hohler: You said that you were abducted by young people. How did the 12 or 13 years old end up in your group?

Witness: I did not know because I escaped.

Hohler: These children you saw, were they also abducted or joined voluntarily?

Witness: They were abducted.

The hearing continues with Witness P-200 testifying.

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