Dominic Ongwen’s lawyer Abigail Bridgman began questioning Witness P-406 in cross-examination on February 20, 2018 in the crimes against humanity trial at the International Criminal Court.
The witness, who had testified for two days, told the three-judge bench, Bertram Schmitt (presiding), Péter Kovácsand Raul Cano Pangalangan that most of the time, the punishment for attempting to escape from the bush was death. In some instances if they felt pity for the person, they would seriously beat and give him or her heavy luggage to carry.
Testifying under court protective measures — with his face pixilated, voice distorted, and referred to using a pseudonym as well as having a lawyer allocated to him to avoid self-incrimination, Witness P-406 told the ICC that the punishment was applied across the board, whether one was a commander or not.
Here is the exchange between the Lawyer Abigail Bridgman and Witness P-406:
Bridgman: Do you know how you were identified by the prosecution as a potential witness?
Witness: I do not know.
Bridgman: During the taking of your statement with the investigators in June 2016, it indicates there were people who assisted you in your location. Who are these people mentioned in this statement?
(The witness answers the question in private session)
Bridgman: This person we were discussing about in private session, did you ever talk with him about the case of Mr Ongwen?
Witness: He told me that I should come and state what happened. I asked him why me, of all the people who were abducted in the bush? Why was I singled out to testify? He told me since I had escaped.He remained in Gulu while I was interviewed in Kampala … I had heard about Mr Ongwen’s arrest warrant. In the year 2013 or 2014 that is Dominic Ongwen was arrested. He was captured in the Central African Republic.
Bridgman: When you heard about Mr Ongwen’s arrest in the Central African Republic, did you hear the place he was alleged to have attacked?
Witness: I did not hear about that since I did not expect to be invited to participate in this part.
Bridgman: You said that once you escaped, where you gave a statement, was this statement written down or it was just about you discussing what happened to you in the bush?
Witness: I was taken to ‘Murumoro’ barracks where they did not record anything. It was only at Kitgum and Gangiang where they interrogated me and recorded the statement
Bridgman: When you were interviewed at Gangiang?
Witness: I spent a night in Goromong. I was taken to Kitgum, then on the third day I was interviewed.
Bridgman: Yesterday you testified that you initially lied about having a gun. What was your state of mind when you were interviewed?
Witness: When I was with the soldiers and they told me that they would not kill me.They seized my gun and told me to speak freely. I spoke freely because they told me that they could not kill me.
Bridgman: Your Honour I request we go into private session so that I can introduce a document.
(Court goes into a private session and resumes with the Bridgman interviewing the witness)
Bridgman: Yesterday you told us about amnesty. Do you have your amnesty certificate, Mr Witness?
Bridgman: Do you remember if the investigators asked about the amnesty certificate?
Witness: …I came with it but left it in the room where I slept.
Bridgman: You have a lawyer present with you in court today, when did you learn that you had a lawyer before your testimony?
Witness: I learnt of that at the time I was being interviewed; they told me I would have a lawyer
Bridgman: When being interviewed, did you have a lawyer present?
Bridgman: Is it true that you declined having a lawyer?
Witness: I can’t remember.
Bridgman: The people that came to you and abducted you and your brothers, do you know their names?
Witness: At first I did not, but when I was in the bush I knew: Lapony Oyet, Lapony Joe.There was so many Laponys’ in the bush there.
Bridgman: But these are not the people that you ended up staying with, right?
Witness: They were in Dok Adaki but at the moment I was holding my commander’s chair.
Bridgman: Yesterday during your testimony, you discussed with Mr Prosecutor about person Number One and Person Two.
Bridgman: I will keep referring to them as Person Number One and Person Two so that you don’t have to say their names in public session. You said that after your abduction, Person Number One came and selected you to be an escort. Let me read something to you so that you can help me understand. (Reading a document to the witness)
Witness: Normally, when you are abducted you are first gathered and then they come pick you, then you become an escort.
Bridgman: You were asked two weeks before becoming an escort, “Where were you?” and you said that you were with other LRA soldiers. Help me understand when you become an escort.
Witness: I said I was abducted and on the second day, I became an escort.
Bridgman: You also said that you were abducted by Raska Lukwiya but you went to Sudan with Buk Abudema, what happened to Raska?
Witness: We split in Lang’o and I was in Terwanga battalion. I left Raska in Lango and I do not know where he went.
Bridgman: Was Raska the brigade commander of Sinia or Buk Abudema?
Witness: Raska was in charge of the group. He was the high-ranking officer of Sinia.We moved with Lapony Acho and Person Number One. We met Buk Abudema. We left with person Number One. I don’t know if it was Raska who promoted him.
Bridgman: Do you know why you were taken to Sudan?
Bridgman: (Refereeing to documents) You said that there were over 600 LRA fighters in the Sinia headquarters that went to Sudan that you said you split at Paicho and joined Abudema’s group. Was it the 600 or more?
Witness: It was more. If they moved in a line, the trail would remain and you would see dust.
Bridgman: How many were abductees like yourself?
Witness: There were so many abducted people because they referred to that place as home. They were so many.
Bridgman: You testified that the first time you saw Mr Ongwen was when he was shot?
Witness: I saw him after he had just been shot.
Bridgman: How did you know where he came from and the circumstance?
Witness: My commander, for whom I was holding the chair, Person Number One, was staying with Kalalang and Robert Mugabe. They said that this certain commander was shot and they should go and check on him. I held his chair and we moved.
Bridgman: Apart from that time you saw Tulu, did you ever see him again?
Bridgman: Did you ever see someone called Ochaya?
Witness: I think I saw Ochaya somewhere
Bridgman: Was he in your group or another group?
Witness: I do not recall now if he was in our group or another group.
Bridgman: Forgive me, Mr Witness, I will ask you about more names. What about Ichaya Luwum?
Witness: I heard about him.
Bridgman: But you did not meet him is that what you are saying?
Witness: If I remember well there is a commander who escaped with his soldiers. I think it is that one.
Bridgman: What about Ojak Dolo Kampala?
Witness: I could have met him but I know him with a different name. I do not recall this name.
Bridgman: Mr Witness, Odok Onyero, you said that at the time you were escaping he was deceased.Is this correct?
Witness: When I escaped he was still alive. When I went back to the OP he was shot.
(Court goes into a private session and resumes with more questioning)
Witness: We were in Soroti together with Buk Abudema then Person Number Two, whose chair I used to carry, was in Tabuley’s home and a military aircraft passed by. We were together with Odoki. They [turned on] the radio and it said Vincent Otti had attacked Pajule. The military aircraft went back at around 2pm, then at 5pm they said that we should attack the aircraft. I never said that I went to Pajule; I said that I heard it had been attacked.
Bridgman: When Dominic joined your group and became your commander, did you know he was moved from Sickbay to the Control Alter for attempting to escape?
Witness: I did not know that.
Bridgman: Did you ever learn that when he was deployed as the brigade commander of Sinia that several officers were deployed to watch him and report back.
Witness: I did not.
Bridgman: Yesterday, you spoke of the Barlonyo attack briefly; that Odhiambo went with Ocan. At this time, was Ocan the commander of Oka (battalion)?
Witness: I guess Ocan was the commander because I was with him.
Bridgman: Does this mean you were in Oka battalion?
Witness: That is when I used to carry the chair of Person Number Two. Odhiambo was in charge of another group … Before we took the position we were attacked by helicopter gunship, a lot of people died. They told us they shot one soldier and the rest fled. They torched houses. That is what I heard about Barlonyo.
Bridgman: Yesterday you testified that person number one was killed in Awere and you told us this happened before you went to Sudan. How many times did you attack Awere?
Witness: The first time was when I was with commander number one that is when he was killed. When I was with person number two, I was carrying his chair and I was under Buk Abudema that means I went to Awere two times.
Bridgman: You testified yesterday that people were selected to go to Odek because there was no food. Who made the selection of people to go to Odek?
Witness: Whenever there was no food Person Number Two, who I was carrying a chair for, would go to Ongwen and tell him that there is no food and Ongwen would decide where the food would be collected from.
(Court goes into a private session and resumes with Bridgman questioning the witness)
Bridgman: Was it people in the operation room who would decide where the food would be collected from?
Witness: Yes, then they would share the information.
Bridgman: Did you ever learn that Odek was Joseph Kony’s birthplace?
Witness: I used to hear from people like Dennis, from Adok Adaki. They would mention that Odek was Kony’s home.
Bridgman: At what point did you know you are going to Odek?
Witness: At the time when the selected people were taken to Ongwen and he said, “You people are going to work,” and Ongwen said: “Go there and abduct children, collect food and set the camp on fire,” then we went. One of the commanders came and whispered to my commander, “If you see, we are near Odek,” and that’s how I realized we were going to Odek.
Bridgman: Do you remember the general area you were stationed before receiving the orders?
Witness: You know after crossing Aswa river they would tell you, “You have left Pader District and you are in Gulu.” The specific location in Gulu I could not establish.
Bridgman: Do you recall the number of soldiers that went to Odek?
Witness: I saw as if they were ranging between 40 and 50 but they could not allow you to count people.
Bridgman: Do you remember if Oreanga went to Odek?
Witness: It is difficult for me to know since some were ahead and others behind us. When we were lining up to take our position, some were lining up to go to the barracks others to the camps but we went to the barracks first.
Bridgman: Would it be correct to assume that 20 to 25 people went to the barracks and 20 to 25 people to the camps?
Witness: They would select people accordingly. When you attack at the barracks and fail, you come back to the camp. There were people looting in the camps.
Bridgman: How long did it take you from the RV to walk to the barracks?
Witness: I do not remember.
Bridgman: Do you remember if you crossed Achwa River?
Witness: I remember we crossed then moved for some distance. There were so many water bodies there, I do not know if it is Aswa or another water body.
Bridgman: Were you ever warned by Joseph Kony or any commanders that if you escape they would come to your village and kill everyone?
Bridgman: Who do you think would have killed your parents by the time you came home?
Witness: I think it might have been the LRA.
Witness P-406 wound up his testimony. A new witness was expected to take the stand on February 21, 2018.