By Susan Kendi
A mental health expert told the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 that there was nothing to indicate that former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen was incapable of appreciating his conduct or cooperating with the law.
Prof Gillian Clare Mezey said Ongwen’s behaviour seems planned and meditated unlike that of an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder, whose conduct would more likely be impulsive.
The issue on Ongwen’s mental health has been discussed previously when the ICC judges declined to excuse him from standing trial. The judges ruled that they were unconvinced that Ongwen was unfit to stand trial as he understood them during the confirmation hearings.
Ongwen’s lawyers requested the court on December 5, 2016 to order a psychological and/or psychiatric examination to determine his fitness to stand trial. The three-judge Trial Chamber IX rejected the request but ordered that a psychiatric examination be conducted on the accused with a view to diagnosing any mental condition or disorder that he may suffer and make specific recommendations on necessary measures or treatments.
Prof Mezey, who has 30 years’ experience as a psychiatrist, explained to the Court that there was no form of mental illness or disorder that would have compromised Ongwen’s actions between 2002 and 2005.
Affirming her report to the Court, she told the judges that Ongwen suffered trauma while in the LRA but warned that such a trauma does not automatically equate to psychiatric illness.
Defence lawyer Thomas Obhof read out an excerpt to Prof Mezey about Ongwen behaving childishly, refusing food, and asked her to explain the significance of his hunger strike.
She told Trial Chamber IX that a hunger strike could mean many things. A person may genuinely strike in order to receive some preferential treatment. She said that Ongwen behaving childishly and refusing food was a way of expressing anger about something that was going on.
Mezey added that loss of appetite and weight is a sign of someone who is depressed or suicidal and this can be done through denying themselves food.
On Monday, she told Prosecutor Colin Black after listening to some audio recordings of LRA communications in which Ongwen was involved, that there was no disorder that would have hindered him from processing, engaging in and making decisions or interacting with people. Ongwen was functioning normally.
Mezey is a professor of forensic psychiatry at St. George’s, University of London.
Here are excerpts of lawyer Obhof’s exchange with and Prof Mezey, Witness P-446:
Obhof: Morning, Doctor.
Obhof: Do you prefer Doctor or Professor?
Mezey: Doctor is fine.
Obhof: During your career, how many child soldiers have you worked with?
Obhof: How many individuals have you worked with, those who have lived in a state of war for 27 years?
Mezey: That is a specific question. I have worked and accessed individuals who have been in war situations as combatants and individuals. 27 years, I am not sure I would give you that answer (Reading an excerpt to Mezey)
Obhof: Which experts did you consult on Acholi culture?
Mezey: I have had conversations with Dr Cathay, who is going to give evidence later to the court, and who I would regard to be certainly, a core expert on culture.
Obhof: Are you aware of the spirituality element in the LRA?
Mezey: I have read some of this.
Obhof: How are you aware Mr Ongwen’s parents were murdered?
Mezey: By recollection one of the parents was killed when he was running away. The other parent it was not clear what happened to them.
Obhof: Did you receive any other information on Mr Ongwen?
Mezey: Mr Ongwen had a stable, secure happy life until the time he was abducted.
Obhof: Did you listen to some audio recording intercepts that the prosecution provided?
Mezey: I listened to some audio recordings… I read everything the lawyer sent me.
Obhof: I assume that you don’t speak Acholi?
Obhof: What non-clues or emotions could be deducted from these recordings?
Mezey: Generally, when one is listening to a recording, you look at fluency, form and content of their speech, variance in terms of tone, and variance in terms of speech. You would be looking for anything that suggests a discontinuity, current sense of reality or consciousness.
Obhof: Did the prosecution explain that Acholi is a tonal language?
Mezey: I was not aware of that. I did not receive any teaching on Acholi language. I placed more weight on other materials than others. What I was looking for was whether there existed anything appearing to be abnormalities in behaviour, mental process that would raise possibilities of mental disorder. This is a comprehensive list of all material.
Obhof: Is there evidence of mental disorder during the time frame we are considering, 2002 to 2005, and the ability for it to affect his action?
Mezey: (Referring to Dr de Jong’s report) The fact that Mr Ongwen appears talkative and relaxed shows that there is lack of coherence in presentation. An example is, if someone has PTSD and experiences nightmares you cannot expect them to be relaxed and talkative.
Obhof: Is it normal for a heterosexual man to act like a girl, wearing dresses and faking breast?
Mezey: I would not consider to have expertise to comment on that. A single symptoms does not mark a disorder
Obhof: What does impaired functioning mean in post-traumic disorder?
Mezey: It includes social withdrawal, not wanting to get out, not wanting to see friends and having difficult arguments with family members. It would affect your work, ability to interact with your colleagues and concentrate.
Obhof: When you wrote your report, did you do that under the assumption that he did not use alcohol or psychoactive drugs in the LRA or detention centre?
Mezey: Drugs or alcohol were not featured. If you are to make a diagnosis, you have to make a report but that was not in Dr de Jong’s report.
Obhof: In your report, would it interest you that Dr Ovuga visited Mr Ongwen five times at the end of 2016?
Mezey: It would be good to know the methodology. When I read it, I could not understand the methodology… It appears that Professor Ovuga is more senior of the two (more senior than Dr Atkins) … It should be clear who is taking responsibility for the opinion because this is not a collective opinion but an individual opinion of the expert.
Obhof: You talked about not seeing Dr Atkins’ CV. Is it necessary to have a CV?
Mezey: I think it is helpful. If I am reading Professor Ovuga’s report it is helpful to see his CV in the report, if it is Doctor Atkins’ report it is helpful to see the CV.
Obhof: Did you receive a letter of instruction from the OTP if you were to conduct an investigation on Mr Ongwen?
Mezey: I don’t remember.
Obhof: You said it was not clear whether or not Dr de Jong and Professor Ovuga talk to each other?
Obhof: Is it okay for experts to speak to each other?
Mezey: There is a potential of undermining of the individual’s professional independence.
Obhof: Did you ever ask the prosecution to find that de Jong and the other experts never talked to each other?
Mezey: No, I don’t think I did.
In the morning session, the prosecution had wound up their examination-in-chief of Prof Mezey. Here are excerpts of Prosecutor Colin Black’s examination of Prof Mezey:
Black: Good morning, professor. Thank you for being with us this morning. I would like to ask you a few questions after your conclusion. You accept in your report that Mr Ongwen suffered trauma in the LRA, is that correct?
Black: Would you tell us why the trauma does not automatically show that he is suffering from mental ill health?
Mezey: Trauma does not automatically equal to psychiatric illness… Trauma should not be equated to psychiatric illness … Mr Ongwen’s conduct seems planned and meditated rather than impulsive or out of the blue … No mental illness or disorder would have compromiised Mr Ongwen’s actions during the period of 2002 to 2005… There is no psychiatric reason related to mental disorder that shows Mr Ongwen was incapable of appreciating his conduct or incapable of cooperating with the law.
Black: Thanks for your time
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt: I believe you have no questions, Miss Massidda?
Paolina Massidda (OPCV): Considering what happened yesterday, we have no questions for this witness
Judge Schmitt: Mr Obhof, you can take the floor.
Prof Mezey’s testimony ended Witness P-187 is scheduled to testify on Thursday.