By Tom Maliti
On Tuesday, a former long-standing member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that she heard that LRA leader Joseph Kony ordered that Dominic Ongwen should be captured and killed because Kony believed Ongwen wanted to escape the LRA.
Witness D-118 told the court she overheard this from LRA fighters who were discussing an order they had heard about. The witness said she overheard this conversation while she was in one the LRA’s sick bays at which Ongwen was also being treated.
The testimony of Witness D-118 was hearsay, but this is not the first time during Ongwen’s trial that a witness has testified that Kony allegedly ordered Ongwen’s death. A prosecution witness who was a captain in the LRA testified in March last year that he knew Ongwen had fallen out of favor with Kony in 2008 and that such an order had been given.
Ongwen’s trial resumed this week after a three-week break. The last hearing was on April 30 when Julius Nyeko, a former member of a Ugandan government-supported militia, testified.
Ongwen is defending himself against 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that he is alleged to have committed in northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Tuesday, defense lawyer Thomas Obhof questioned Witness D-118 about the time she spent at a sick bay just before she escaped the LRA. The witness said Ongwen was at the same sick bay.
“Before you returned home did you hear any rumors about Mr. Ongwen?” asked Obhof.
“Yes, I did and I heard that he wanted to escape,” replied Witness D-118.
“If you can remember more can you tell us what you heard about Mr. Ongwen wanting to escape and from whom you heard this, if you remember?” asked Obhof.
She answered that she overheard “some of the boys” who were guarding the sick bay.
“What I heard is that Odomi was being sought after because there were orders that he should be captured and killed. I did not ask for more clarification because if I were to ask and somebody else hears we would all be in trouble,” said Witness D-118. The Odomi she referred to is Ongwen. Odomi is one of the names he was known by in the LRA.
“For clarity, who wanted to capture and kill Dominic [Ongwen]?” asked Obhof.
“It was commander Kony who had given the order,” answered Witness D-118.
Earlier on Tuesday, Witness D-118 told the court she was abducted in 1994 and remained with the LRA into the 2000s. She testified via video link from an undisclosed location. The witness described life in the LRA in the 1990s in Aru, Palotaka, and Jebelen, places that were in Sudan at the time but are now part of South Sudan.
Witness D-118 also told the court she received military training and was issued a firearm until she became pregnant. She testified that she was distributed as a “wife” when she was 13 and a half years old. Witness D-118 said there was a time when girls and women in the LRA could chose whom they wanted to marry.
“Was there a reason why Kony distributed women to men?” asked Obhof.
“Yes. There was a reason,” answered the witness.
“Could you please explain that reason to the court?” asked Obhof.
“Yes, I can. The reason why women are distributed I found out that in the 1980s women were courting but they did not court the older men and people who were wounded and others who were not as good looking to the women. For that matter he [Kony] said women should just be distributed so that everyone gets a wife,” replied Witness D-118.
Part of the testimony of Witness D-118 was closed to the public to protect her privacy or protect her identity. This was one of the in-court protective measures she was given. Other measures included her voice and face being distorted in the public broadcasts of the hearing.
Witness D-118 concluded her testimony on Tuesday.
The week began with Florence Acan’s testimony on Monday. Acan also testified via video link from an undisclosed location. She told the court the LRA abducted her one night in February 1996. She said at the time she was a primary school student but she cannot remember how old she was. She said the class she was in was primary two.
Acan said she was assigned to someone called Nono, who she said was the commander of Gilva brigade. She said her main duty was to carry luggage. She said she stayed in Nono’s household until he died and then she was assigned to the household of Opiyo Makas, a battalion commander in Gilva. Acan said a senior commander called Okello Director wanted her to become his wife but she declined. She said he gave her to another man she did not name to be her husband.
“You said you refused to be with this Okello Director. That was quite brave of you, wasn’t it?” asked Gordon Kifudde, one of Ongwen’s lawyers.
“You know when you are in the bush and when you have stayed there for quite some time…there are certain things that you can get away because if you accept anything, anything can happen to you,” answered Acan.
“Did you have fears of anything, of being killed?” asked Kifudde.
“Yes, I did think about all those things and then I made up my mind, ‘Well, what will happen to me will happen,’” replied Acan.
She said she escaped the LRA in 2014 while she was in Congo. Acan said at the time she had two children, one of whom was an infant. Another person she escaped with also had two children. She said they first went to a nearby town where civilians welcomed them and they ended up in a military barracks waiting to be airlifted to Uganda. Acan said her, the other person she escaped with, and the children were flown to Entebbe and eventually taken to Gulu. She said at Gulu she was questioned by the Ugandan army for a day and then stayed at a reception center before going home.
Acan concluded her testimony on Monday. Witness D-89 is scheduled to testify on Thursday.
This was first published on the International Justice Monitor website.