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Ongwen still my boss, my friend and my brother – witness tells court

Journalists for Justice / 11 May 2017

 

By Susan Kendi

A witness at the ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity at The Hague shocked the International Criminal Court when he admitted that if he met former LRA commander Dominic Ongwen, he would still regard him as his boss, his friend and his brother.

Witness P-0142 said it was not within his power to claim whether Ongwen was a good or a bad person.

Defence lawyer Thomas Obhof had revisited a question prosecution counsel Adesola Adeboyejo had asked the witness and elicited a response that referred to Ongwen as his brother.

 “(Ongwen was) a people person. He would talk to people and stay among them. He shared laughter and jokes,” the witness said under cross-examination.

He cared about people, especially when he was still a low-ranking soldier,” Witness P-0142 told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on May 9, 2017 in response to questions by lead defence lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo.

Witness P-0142 extensively described Ongwen’s personality to Judge Bertram Schmitt (presiding), Judge Peter Kovacs and Judge Raul Pangalangan, saying that when he rose up the ranks of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA), there was some change in his character since he had several responsibilities.

The gap between Ongwen and his fighters was conspicuous and he would not even get close to Ongwen, but that he retained his “goodness.”

Witness P-0142 is testifying under protective court measures, which include voice distortion, face image pixilation and being referred by a pseudonym. He has additionally been assigned a lawyer, Julius Von Bone, to guide him during his testimony especially when testifying on sensitive matters that might cause him to incriminate himself.

Mr Obhof questioned the witness on the ranks of four former LRA fighters -- Kenneth Bania, Sam Kolo, Onen Kabule and Odongo Acellam on whether they were prosecuted or free.

Kenneth Bania held a more senior rank in the LRA than Ongwen; Sam Kolo was also in a senior position and worked with the LRA supreme leader, Joseph Kony, while Onen Kabule, commonly referred to as Onen Kamdulu, held the same rank as Ongwen but Odongo Acellam was higher in the hierarchy since he was Kony’s aide-de-camp.

Regarding Kenneth Bania and Sam Kolo, the witness told the court, “…The way I see they are free. They are free to move around and do anything.”

Witness P-0142 said Odongo Acellam was living freely in Uganda and had not been prosecuted for any atrocities he committed while in the bush but said he he had heard on the radio that Onen Kabule was accused of committing atrocities after pulling out of the LRA though the witness was not sure whether or not he was still in prison.

Mr Odongo revisited the relationship between Ongwen and the LRA boss Joseph Kony and his Deputy Commander Vincent Otti, who is deceased.

According to the Former Intelligence Officer, the relationship that Dominic Ongwen and Joseph Kony had was ineffable. Witness P-0142, a former LRA intelligence officer, said that Ongwen frequently found himself in trouble with Kony and was at times jailed. Ongwen did not have any problems with Vincent Otti when the witness was still in the LRA.

Otti’s death had been known for a while but remained a rumour until Witness P-0205 testified on March 8, 2017 how LRA fighters Vincent Otti, Otti Lagony and Okello were shot dead for attempting to escape from the bush.

Witness P-0142 completed his testimony on Tuesday May 9, 2017 as the hearing took a break and resumes on May 29, 2017.  Witness P-0314 will begin testifying before the same judges.

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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[1], to the Central African Republic[2] to Egypt[3] and Ethiopia[4], 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[5], Rwanda[6] and Niger[7] 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).[8] 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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