A witness has narrated to judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) what unfolded during the infamous Lord Resistance Army (LRA) attack on Lukodi, a village about 17 kilometers from Gulu town. The witness described in harrowing detail how fighters put some children in polythene bags and beat them to death, threw others in the bush and locked some in houses before proceeding to burn them alive.
Witness P-187 told the Trial Chamber how some of the bodies that were put in sacks were later discovered abandoned during the dry season.
The Prosecution witness told the Trial Chamber IX of the ICC that the Lukodi attack took place on May 19, 2004 between four and five in the afternoon. They (her family) had just had lunch and she left on her bike to go look for food to cook in the evening.As she was cycling back, she met with some people running and shouting. This forced her off the bike, As she tried to get back home, she heard gunshots and saw houses being torched.
The witness said that the LRA soldiers were shouting, banging jericans and blowing whistles during the attack. Witness P-187 told the Trial Chamber IX of the ICC that she initially mistook the rebels for officers from the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) because they were dressed in military uniform.
Here are the excerpts of the conversation between Benjamin Gumpert and Witness P-187:
Judge Bertram Schmitt: Mr Gumpert you have the floor.
Gumpert: Can we go immediately into private session for two or three questions?
Judge Bertram Schmitt: Yes of Course
(The Court goes on a private session and resumes with Prosecutor Gumpert questioning the witness)
Gumpert: Madam Witness tell the court the year you were born
Witness: I was born in the year 1956
Gumpert: Madam Witness, what happened in Lukodi?
Witness: In the year 2002 when we first moved, Lukodi was not a designated camp… In 2004, there was attack.
Gumpert: The civilian houses in the camp Lukodi, how were they situated with regard to the military presence?
Witness: The civilians constructed their houses behind the army barracks and enclosed the soldiers in the middle. The civilian houses were on the sides.
Gumpert: What results did that have when the attack came?
Witness: It led to a lot of deaths because when the attack started the soldiers fled, crossed the roads and went to the western side.
Gumpert: What date did the attack occur?
Witness: The attack took place in May 19, 2004.It was between four and five pm.
Gumpert: I want to ask about the days before the attack. How were the people before the attack feeding themselves? How were they getting access to food and essentials?
Witness: People escaped and went to their homes to take food but when we were confined, Caritas provided cooking oil, blankets, pans, flour and it was not even a week before the attack took place.
Gumpert: I was asking about the inhabitants of the camp. How was the emergency food supplied to those that lived in the camp?
Witness: When people relocated, all over a sudden they were many. The local council leaders agreed that since people are many there is bound to be famine and Caritas gave people food.
Gumpert: Describe how you became aware that the camp was under attack?
Witness: For me, we had lunch but I am not sure when we had lunch, about three or four o’clock. I went to look for food to cook in the evening. I was cycling back and I met some people who were running and making a lot of noise… I met them and fell down. People were running. Some dispersed and others went to the barracks. When I was preparing to go back home, I heard gunshots and saw houses being torched…I entered a house then woman number one entered the house then number two joined me. We then asked each other what we would do. We were worried that we would also be burnt. Six rebels came and proceeded. They did not enter the house. It was getting to six pm it was getting dark.
Witness: (Referring to a statement made by one of the rebels) “All you people will die today. Why did you enter the house?” They ordered us to enter the house and carry the items. I was shaking and these other women entered the house passed me the goods then carried theirs…Someone was shouting from the western side, they (LRA) went and shot that guy.They found a woman who had a girl, the size of her waist, they shot the girl and shot the woman on the knee…Those women with me were carrying more goods since they were younger than me.I was carrying about two basins of beans on my head and my right hand carrying 10-litres of cooking oil. A helicopter gunship came I was not able to move fast. We were among the last people to move out of the camp. He told me to put down the luggage so that the helicopter cannot see me.
Witness: He threatened he would beat me and insulted me that I was fat. He pushed me and I fell down on my stomach. I could feel I had something painful I did not know I was wounded. Some beans fell down.
Witness: The rope that was I tied with loosened, then the goat escaped. I walked and he asked me “where is the goat?” So when we crossed the first river, River Onyama, we moved a while and it started drizzling. We stepped on dead bodies, children were thrown away in the bush. A baby who was two to three months old was thrown away.
Witness: We crossed three streams then got to a place and started cooking. Each group would cook. You would see fire. I heard some noise I thought they were splitting firewood but no they were killing people. One of the soldiers came with a book and pen on his hand. The ‘afande’ ordered that women be released and men to remain. He then started moving. The commander who remained with us did not want us to go. He asked me to remove the beads and give to him. I removed the beads which had money and gave to him.
Judge Bertram Schmitt: Perhaps we can stop here Madam Witness and Mr Gumpert you can ask follow up questions.
Gumpert: What noises could you hear as the attack was beginning?
Witness: When they (LRA) came they were shouting, they would bang jericans… They were shouting on top of their voices. That is what made people in the camp realise that the rebels have arrived the camp and started attacking… They came from the Eastern part.
Gumpert: (Reading witness testimony) You said they were shouting, banging jericans where they also blowing whistles?
Witness: Yes they were blowing whistles
Gumpert: Where was the market you could buy vegetables. What was it near?
Witness: It was almost opposite the school. It was a small market that people would come gather and sell vegetables.
Gumpert: You said that these people (LRA) are soldiers. Tell the court of another name of the military organisation these people were?
Witness: They were referred as lakwena or rebels.
Gumpert: You said you went to another person’s house to seek refuge. Did you know the person?
Witness: I do not know the owner of the house.
Gumpert: I want to clarify about the two rebels who came in the house in which you and person one and two were. First of all, a large number of men came and said “there are people here” and went is that correct?
Witness: Yes when they came they peeped then went ahead. They were killing people. People were torched in the houses.
Gumpert: Other soldiers came? What was the number that came to talk to you?
Witness: They were three people
Gumpert: Did they have guns?
Witness: One person had a gun. He was firing it.He was the one shooting and the one that injured me.
Gumpert: Who was he firing at?
Witness: He shot and killed a boy called Charles and I saw him shoot Anek whose mother is called Perina Aya and shot the mother was shot on the knee.
Gumpert: How old were Charles and Anek roughly?
Witness: Charles was a boy, already an adult. Anek was probably four to five years old. Anek and the mother were inside the house when they saw houses burning. They started running out and that’s when they were shot.
Gumpert: Did you see other civilians being shot?
Witness: Very many. They shoot Okot and his daughter in law. Three other children were shot and burnt in the house, Angong, Opiro, Odong Charles, Akicha… Many people were actually killed.
Gumpert: What happened to the UPDF soldiers who had been in the camp?
Witness: They were few. I think they were less than 30 in number. I think they fled since they did not even exchange fire.
Gumpert: Did you later see where they had fled to?
Witness: I did not see because at that time there was fire everywhere. In the barracks you would just see smoke.
Gumpert: I will read two sentences from the statement you gave to the prosecution (Reading the statement that the witness recorded with the prosecution in April 2015) You are speaking about the attacker “I know you they were not the UPDF because they had long fled. I saw the UPDF on the other side of the stream watching the rebels attack the camp.” Does that remind you?
Witness: I did not see the government soldiers at all because they had fled.
Gumpert: You did not see them in the camp but you saw them later at the stream?
Witness: Correct. They never stayed at the barracks they fled.
Gumpert: Let’s come to the statement of the man with the gun. Tell us exactly what the man said to you, person number one and two?
Witness: He said “Today you are here in this house, you are not going to survive. You are going to die. If you try to run you are going to die…Get in the house and come with the items.” I was standing outside as the women took the items and brought to me. Once they took items the LRA would torch the house. Some were hit, some children put in polythene bags and beaten to death, some put in bags and thrown in the bush, others were locked in the house and burnt.
Gumpert: Do you know the name of any children you saw being thrown into burning houses?
Witness: Lamulo was about two months old, Achan two to three months old, Fiona and Akello were found in the morning. The soldiers searched for them in the morning. As we were moving you could hear children crying person number two had her child thrown into the bush.
Gumpert: Do you know if she later found her baby?
Witness: Yes. She found her child. After I returned from the bush, I was feeling sick there was a vehicle which came and picked people who were injured on taken to main hospital in Gulu. There was a boy called Chana who was thrown and he has a mental problem and learning difficulties till now he is not doing well.
Gumpert: The question I am asking is about the people being thrown into burning huts and not the bush?
Witness: There was Kennedy Okot, an elderly Okot, a child of Jackeline her daughter in law and three children and a child to Akello. There was Santa Oromo and Georgina, they were sickly and they were found when they had recoiled.
Gumpert: Do you remember the name of Lalobo’s wife?
Witness: She was called Evelyne Ataro
Gumpert: You have described leaving the camp. How many of the lakwena were guarding you as you were leaving?
Witness: They could be about six or eight….They were totaling to eight…I was tied by the wrist, made to carry two basins of beans and 10 litres of cooking oil and made to leave the camp with 10 other people.
Gumpert: How many of the people like you carrying stolen items?
Witness: In the group that abducted us or in the whole group?
Gumpert: Who are men who escaped and went to Akwach (village)?
Witness: Akwera and nelson Arerwa. There were those that fled and were never found.
Gumpert: You spoke about a helicopter, a government military helicopter is that correct?
Gumpert: Did the helicopter (gunship) shoot as far as you were aware?
Witness: No gunshots were fired. These we could have heard. It was flying at low level that is why they (LRA) hurried up to the other side of the stream.
Gumpert: You spoke about children Lamulo and Chana. Explain did you see Lamulo being thrown in the bush with your own eyes?
Witness: Lamulo was thrown in the bush because the mother was carrying luggage… (After the soldiers found the children) Some women could not even recognize their children since they had bruises. Lamulo could not be identified by the mother. His eyes and cheeks were swollen.
Gumpert: Did you see this with your own eyes?
Witness: When I returned in the morning, we met when the soldiers were collecting them in the bush. I saw when she was being recovered from the bush.
Gumpert: Did you yourself, at that time you were being led away saw children being thrown into the bush?
Witness: Yes. The mother of the children thrown I saw. When we were moving we heard children carrying in the bush. When we returned (home) about eight or nine we found them being collected. I saw with my own eyes when the children were being picked. Oboyo is still missing.
Gumpert: I want to ask about Nancy Okello was her body found?
Witness: No it was not recovered. There was also Onek Wilson whose body was never recovered.
Gumpert: On your return to Lukodi camp what had become of your houses?
Witness: They were burnt. Items were burnt, my five goats and several chicken, I never found any of them. My daughters in law houses were burnt.
Gumpert: How many houses did you have?
Witness: I had two houses. One that I had constructed and one given to me by the owner of the land. My daughter in law hut was also burnt…People fled to Gulu then located to Chobe and they stayed there for three to four years since Lukodi was destroyed.
Gumpert: Thank madam witness for your patience. I got no more questions. One more thing, I failed to give the five seconds of video.01:21:01:02:21:06 was what we saw on our screen.
Judge Bertram Schmitt: Mrs (Megan) Hirst might be having questions.
Mrs Hirst: Your Honour, Mr Gumpert has been very thorough. I have one thing that can be discussed in private session.
(The Court goes on a private session and resumes with the presiding Judge, Bertram Schmitt addressing the court)
Judge Bertram Schmitt: It would be now time for the defence examination
Charles Taku: Your honours, I am quite prepared with that but there is something we raised on Mr Ongwen’s present needs.
Judge Bertram Schmitt: Since you brought it now it can be discussed now (in private session) then we go back to public session.
(The Court returns from private session with Judge Bertram Schmitt speaking)
Judge Bertram Schmitt: The discussions in private session is that we finish the hearing for today and start tomorrow at 9:30am.I hope that the defence will conduct the examination in an expeditious manner. Madam witness this means that we will see each other tomorrow. Thank for your time.
Witness P-187 is expected to continue with her testimony on Friday, March 23, 2018.