By Tom Maliti
A former bodyguard of former Ugandan President Milton Obote narrated to the International Criminal Court (ICC) how he ended up working with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for four years, including working as a liaison with the government of Sudan and diplomats based in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
Nathan Iron Emory told the court he was a member of a separate rebel group, the Uganda People’s Army (UPA), when he worked with the LRA in what he said was an advisory role. He said the UPA began collaborating with the LRA when they ran low on arms and other supplies and wanted to get new supplies from Sudan using the LRA’s contacts with the government in Khartoum.
Emory testified between Monday, October 22 and Tuesday, October 23 in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander. The trial resumed on October 22 after a 12-day break. Emory is the fifth defense witness to testify.
Ongwen is on trial for 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed between July 1, 2002 and December 31, 2005. The charges against him include attacks on four camps for internally displaced people; sexual and gender-based crimes; and conscripting child soldiers.
Emory said he worked with the LRA between 1996 and 2000. He also described his role with the LRA as being a “guest commander.” He said during this time he spent some time at what he said was described as the LRA’s “embassy” in Khartoum. Emory said it was at this office he met from time to time with Sudan’s director of intelligence, diplomats, and people and organizations seeking to mediate between the LRA and the Ugandan government such as the Carter Center.
On October 23, Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, asked Emory whether during his time with the LRA he knew Ongwen.
“Dominic Ongwen was a young boy and he commanded something, either a platoon or a company,” Emory said.
He told the court he did not regularly interact with Ongwen. Emory said that there was a time he travelled with LRA leader Joseph Kony to Uganda from Sudan. He said at some point in the trip, while in Uganda, he was left under the care of Ongwen.
“I stayed with him. I ate with him and he really cared for me. I didn’t see anything bad from him. He commanded his forces well,” said Emory.
Also, on October 23, senior trial lawyer Benjamin Gumpert, who cross-examined Emory for the prosecution, asked him what he meant when he described himself as a “guest commander” of the LRA.
“A guest commander is a commander who has visited another unit and is not actively involved in the activities,” replied Emory.
“So, at no time were you an operational part of the LRA?” asked Gumpert.
“No time,” replied Emory.
Gumpert pursued this line of questioning, asking Emory about a document he signed and presented to a Sudanese government official in which Emory, among other things, urged the Sudanese government to continue supporting the LRA, “until victory is achieved.”
“This is a document I authored on behalf of LRA under the instructions of Joseph Kony after talking to him,” said Emory. He said Kony had been asked to meet with Sudan’s director of intelligence, but he was unable to do so. Emory said Kony asked him to represent him and present his views to the director.
On October 22, Emory told the court how he left his job as a bodyguard to then President Milton Obote to join the UPA and later work with the LRA. He said he went to Monduli Cadet Academy in Tanzania in October 1984 for a training course with 22 other people who were either members of the Presidential Protection Unit or the Ugandan army. Emory said the course lasted more than a year. Monduli Cadet Academy is now known as Tanzania Military Academy.
He said when he got to the academy Obote was president but during the course of his training, Obote was overthrown and by the time he and the other 22 Ugandans were due to graduate in April 1986, Yoweri Museveni was in power. Emory said his political commissar at the academy, Major Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, informed him that Obote was overthrown. He said in April 1986 Kikwete also informed him that Museveni was sending a senior officer to attend their graduation. Almost 20 years later, Kikwete became Tanzania’s fourth president.
Emory said it was after this graduation that he and the other 22 Ugandans were invited back home to resume their work. He said they were informed that before they do that they would undergo a four-month course in ideology and political education. He said he accepted and on returning to Uganda he was taken to a town in south-eastern Uganda called Masaka to begin his political education. He said when they arrived where they were to be trained in Masaka, they found the place guarded by children and there were corpses all over. He said there were more than 750 former soldiers of the then Ugandan army held there. Emory said he told the person in charge of his group that this was not what they had expected.
“I told him, ‘Please, we are coming for political education. Is this the place for political education? We cannot stay here. This is not what we agreed with the president (Yoweri Museveni). This is a detention camp’,” Emory told the court.
He said they were then taken to a barracks in Mbarara, which is in southern Uganda. He said at these barracks they found 10,000 children from all parts of Uganda being trained to be soldiers. He said they slept in holes and had nothing to cover themselves with.
“We were the first officers to arrive there. Sanitation is not there. The buildings are dilapidated,” Emory said, adding many of the children had diarrhea and other diseases. He said it was at Mbarara that he decided he was not going to go through with the political education he had been told about.
Emory said next he and others were taken to Kiburara Prison Farm in western Uganda. He said here they found about 7,000 children.
“The children were in the open. These children had no clothes, nothing. It was horrible,” said Emory. He said he and the officers he was with were the first officers to arrive there and they slept in the silos, which he said were empty.
He said he left Kiburara in February 1987 and later joined the UPA. Emory told the court that before Obote was overthrown he had worked as a presidential bodyguard from 1981 until he went to Monduli Cadet Academy in October 1984. He said during that time he attended courses in China, India, and North Korea.
This was first published on the International Justice Monitor Website.