By Susan Kendi
Fragments of a tree stump were stuck in his foot sole and he told his fellow fighters in the Lord’s Resistance Army that he could not cross River Agago with them, they set upon him with sticks and left him for dead, a victim of one of the attacks told the International Criminal Court.
Witness P-0249, who was testifying on June 5, 2017 at the crimes against humanity trial of LRA commander Dominic Ongwen, told judges at the ICC that he woke up the following morning feeling thirsty.
“I got some energy [and] I said I cannot die from here. I decided to go back to the road and [find] a way back. I was licking the dew to quench my thirst. Whenever I would get tired, I would lie near the roadside, my leg on the road and my head on the grass…
“If someone saw me, well and good; if not I would proceed. I carried on like this for a while, moving around, just crawling. It was not easy. I struggled like that for nine days. The, I got to a cassava plantation. We (abductees) had passed there …
“I uprooted ate and proceeded to the sim sim garden. The owner of the (cassava) garden was nearby. He tracked me to the sim sim garden and told me, “Boy, please get up.” I told him, ‘I did not just escape I was released, thinking he was an LRA member. I told him, ‘Look at me I have no capacity to wake up. ”
The owner of the cassava plantation went and called his wife. They came and ferried the witness on a bicycle given to them by the Red Cross to assist the injured and helpless.
They took him to the military barracks in Adilang, from where the Uganda government soldiers drove him to a hospital in Kitgum, in northern Uganda.
Witness P-0249 is testifying under court protection mechanisms that include facial pixilation and voice distortion. He is a dual witness, testifying as a witness and also registered as a victim, one of those represented by the Paolina Massidda.
Prosecutor Adesola Adeboyejo questioned the witness about the attack at Pajule camp where he lived with his wife, his abduction and how it all happened.
The witness was abducted about 5 to 6 am during the October 10, 2003 attack on Pajule happened on the eve of Uganda’s Independence Day when people were drinking in celebration.
“I was in my house at that time. I heard gunshots. People were making noise and raising the alarm … The government soldiers’ alarm did not sound but the (LRA fighters) came and kicked the door.
“I told my wife not to open the door … They kicked until they had to shoot a bullet and I told my wife to open the door,” Witness P-0249 told the three-judge bench of presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt, Judge Péter Kovács and Judge Raul C. Pangalangan of Trial Chamber IX.
The witness was separated from his wife and was tied with ropes around his waist. The LRA fighters comprised young and old people although many of them were young fighters aged 13,14,15,16,17 and 18 years old.
Those who were lucky fled but many others were abducted. LRA fighters shot at civilians who tried to flee, which resulted to his intestines spilling out.
Ongwen ordered the standby force to loot shops, using a stick to point out the ones he wanted sacked. The witness estimated that Ongwen used a stick as long as the breadth of the witness’ chest to the tip of his arm.
The LRA fighters looted: maize, beans, soap, clothes, saucepans and anything that would be useful them in the bush. They took merchandise from the shops and personal items from the civilian’s houses.
At the time of the attack a lot of people were living in the camp, and food rations had been distributed by the World Food Programme.
The witness said he saw shops being looted when he was on the main road. The fighters who were looting the market targeted the witness’ shop, among other shops.
Every abductee was beaten and kicked. They were used as porters to carry the looted items. The LRA did not allow abductees to have enough food and even while passing through a water point, one was not allowed to drink water.
Ongwen did not beat people while in the LRA but he instructed other fighters to do it.
After the witness was abducted into the LRA, Otti Vincent, Raska Lukwiya and Dominic Ongwen addressed them. Otti spoke first, instructing the abductees to do as they were told and not to escape. He also advised that when a helicopter gunship shot at them, they were not to run or carry looted goods in their hands.
Ongwen told the abductees that if anyone tried to escape, dropped the looted items meant to feed other fighters or did not follow the LRA rules and regulations, that person would be killed.
Paolina Massidda, the head of the Office of the Principal Counsel for Victims representing the second group of witnesses, asked if the witness received treatment for his injured foot while in the LRA.
“There was no treatment I got … My wounds were all infected, they had maggots. I was only saved when I got to Adilang barracks. I was taken to a health centre and they cleaned me…,” he said.
“I spent over a month hospitalised in the main hospital in Kitgum. In the bush, I was actually rotting … The internal injury that I suffered on the chest still affects me till now. I am still buying drugs… Even this morning, I had chest pain,” Witness P-0249 told the court.
The witness explained that the ICC offered some support while prosecution investigators were taking down his statement. He was taken to the hospital for treatment and put under medication.
Massidda asked the witness on the impact that the abduction had to his life.
“My life was completely ruined. That was my turning point. Before this life, I had a very peaceful life but with these injuries I am not free. I am still engulfed in this pain like I told you … I can walk but not very well. I cannot carry heavy loads or work hard since I will experience heavy pains,” the witness told the court.
The witness told the court that he sells soap, sugar, paraffin and other merchandise in his shop. When he came from the LRA he withdrew some money he had saved in the bank and started over. “The businesses I am doing at the moment is what we rely on. Whenever my wife is at the shop, I go to the farm — whether I am feeling sick or not. I try my best to make ends meet.”
When Witness P-0249 was abducted he had one wife, but his second wife was one of the abductees in the bush. He has been married to his second wife over four years and has five children with the first wife, two with his second wife, and one he is the one taking care of as well as one of his cousins.
Asked by Massidda to make a request on what he would like the court offer as assistance to the survivors of the LRA attacks and atrocities, he said it was up to the judges to use their discretion
Defence lawyers were set to cross-examine Witness P-0249 on Tuesday, June 6, 2017.