By Susan Kendi
Lord’s Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony ordered the head of one of his brigade commanders cut off and transported to him in Sudan within four days after he was shot by Ugandan forces.
The bizarre event was described by a witness testifying for the prosecution in the crimes against humanity trial of former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen at the International Criminal Court.
On Monday, January 15, 2018, the ICC’s Trial Chamber IX resumed hearing the case after the holiday recess with Witness P-250 on the stand.
The witness, who is a former member of the LRA, told judges Bertram Schmitt (presiding), Péter Kovács and Raul Cano Pangalangan, that brigade commander Tabuley was shot dead by Uganda government soldiers when they were in Soroti after his gun failed to fire thrice.
Kony was informed about the killing and ordered the LRA fighters to carry Tabuley’s body to Sudan within four days. The commander in charge agreed but the fighting was too fierce since the helicopter gunship and soldiers on foot were firing at the LRA fighters and the hefty body slowed their pace.
Communication was then sent to Kony that the fighting was fierce and he asked that Tabuley’s head be cut off, put in the fifth house and brought to him within four days.
Here are excerpts of the exchange in court between Prosecutor Pubudu Sachithanandan and Witness P-250.
Pubudu: I am going to ask you about a man called Tabuley, then about your time in the LRA. Have you heard of anyone called Tabuley?
Witness: Yes, I heard of Tabuley.
Pubudu: Is he alive?
Witness: No, he died.
Pubudu: Describe how Tabuley died.
Witness: Could you assist me with a pen, please?
Judge Bertram: If you want to draw something that will be shown to the court.
Pubudu: (Addressing Judge Bertram Schmitt) Mr Witness likes to scribble when he speaks.
Judge Bertram: We will give you a paper and pen, then you can describe.
Witness: Tabuley is no longer alive. He died. After I was abducted, I was sent to groups then taken under a brigade commanded by Tabuley. It was in Soroti that he was shot. We were surrounded by (Ugandan) soldiers in all directions, from different locations. When something bad is bound to happen he (Tabuley) had an extra sense to knowing something was about to happen. He went to ease himself then he saw soldiers. He tried to fire three times, after the three failed attempts, the soldiers shot him and he died.
Pubudu: What happened after he died?
Witness: After he died, the (Uganda) government soldiers were many in number. There were reports that the escorts said Tabuley has been shot and this went to the senior commanders in Holy, down to the low ranked commanders. We were told to go and carry his body. We went, there was a fierce exchange. Kony said, “I give you four days to carry Tabuley’s body to Sudan,” and the commander agreed. This information was to be kept in secret, the new abductees should not be told. It was a fierce fight. The helicopter gunship and foot soldiers were firing at us. Communication was send to Kony that the fighting is really fierce. He said that (Tabuley’s) head should be cut off and brought to him. “Put the head of Tabuley in the fifth house. Then once that is done you can carry the head after four days and bring it to me.” All houses were burnt but the fifth house was left.
Pubudu: Who took over command of the troops after Tabuley died?
Witness: At that time the person who took over was Odomi, Dominic Ongwen. After Tabuley’s death, Dominic Ongwen took over. I was abducted in 2002. I spent a long time in the bush. In that long stay, Ongwen was referred to as Odomi in the bush. When the boss died, an order came from Kony that since Tabuley had died, Dominic Ongwen should replace him and take up the role.
Pubudu: How do you know that it was Ongwen who took over? Did you see with your eyes or learnt in another way?
Witness: At the time when Tabuley was alive, when he sent you to fight, nothing happened to you. When Ongwen took over, the government soldiers really attacked us. I started asking, “Is this Ongwen?” then I was told, “Yes, he is the one.”
Pubudu: When he took over what did Ongwen do?
Witness: There were very many bad things that happened. First, people were abducted, houses burnt, people killed and household items were looted.
(The court goes on a closed session for about 20 minutes and resumes with Prosecutor Pubudu reads the victim’s application to seek clarification on the attack on Pajule IDP camp.)
Pubudu: “On October 10, 2003 about 5am, I heard shouts and gunshots and the LRA came to my house.”
Witness: The information is like this, at the time they (prosecution) brought this form, they asked how many people were abducted from Pajule, people raised their hands and I also did. I explained what happened in Pajule. I then received a call and was told to go to Gulu. Your honours, I did not complete this form. I found that it was already filled. The information I gave you at the beginning is the correct information.
Pubudu: The document bears the name Certificate of Amnesty and it is not for display, issued on March 19, 2004. Can you tell us what this document is?
Witness: Pader was not a district, it was Kitgum. We were taken by a car, they took a photograph and said that when the document is ready, they would tell us. I waited, waited and waited until I was issued with this document.
The prosecution concluded its case and the presiding judge, Bertram Schmitt, allowed the Principal Counsel of the Public Counsel for Victims at the ICC, Paolina Massidda, and one of the legal representatives for the victims, to question the witness.
Here are the excerpts.
Massidda: Good afternoon, Mr Witness. What were your feelings when you were abducted?
Witness: When I was abducted I was extremely saddened
Massidda: Why is that?
Witness: First of all, it was not good. Secondly, bad things happen in the bush.
Massidda: Did you fear about the fate of your family?
Witness: Yes, I feared for the fate of my family.
Massidda: During the time of your abduction, were you forced to walk for long distances?
Witness: Yes, extremely long distances.
Massidda: Did this long walk have a consequence on your health?
Witness: Yes, it had consequences.
Massidda: Which kind of consequences? Did you suffer injuries?
Witness: Yes. First of all, there was hunger, thirst and thirdly, we had to walk for extremely long distances and my feet were swollen. I also had injuries on my leg that gave me pain in my groin area. When I came back, I found that my father and relatives had died. Even my wife was no longer there.
Massidda: Were you ever beaten during your abduction?
Massidda: Was the beating regular?
Witness: When I was abducted, I was given a goat to carry and it was bleating (illustrating -- meeee…meeee). They took a pickaxe and hit me on my leg. I was also given 50 lashes on my buttocks and back. If you look at my chest, I have a problem as I was accustomed to carry heavy things like beans and maize. I would be forced to carry food when cooking, my back was burnt. We would all sleep on one row and they would bring a carpet and roll around us then place bags of beans on top of us. There was no fresh air, I even got rashes out of that.
Massidda: This morning you answered the question by the prosecution about what happened to some members of you family. Am I correct to say that in the time of the Pajule attack you had your family staying there?
Massidda: Is my recollection correct that during your abduction you had three brothers, one sister, one uncle, one cousin and your father staying in Pajule?
Witness: Yes they were staying together when I left.
Massidda: You mentioned that the property of your father was looted?
Monday’s hearing ended and Witness P-250 was expected to continue testifying on January 16, 2018.
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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