On Monday, March 26, 2018 an expert witness told the International Criminal Court that Dominic Ongwen was functioning well while in the Lord Resistance Army (LRA).
Witness P-445, Doctor Catherine Abbo testified on the transcripts of experts that had a chance to examine Ongwen and witnesses’ account on their interaction with Ongwen.
Referencing testimony given earlier by two prosecution witnesses, Dr Abbo told the Trial Chamber IX of the ICC that Ongwen displayed all the characteristics of someone who functioned well while in the bush. The two witnesses had given testimony about how Ongwen was a people person, would eat together with other fighters, cared about people, was friendly, cared about his family and was rarely violent towards them,.
Dr Abbo added that Ongwen obviously had some degree of control and influence in his environment. This was evident whenever Kony wanted to kill someone and Ongwen intervened, Kony listened.
Dr Abbo testified shortly after another expert witness, Professor Mezey affirmed to the Court that Ongwen had control of his faculties and functioned well enough between 2002 to 2005.
Here are the excerpts of the exchange between in Trial Chamber IX between prosecutor Colleen Gilg and Doctor Catherine Abbo:
Gilg: Let’s talk about dissociative disorder. I get from your discussion that there is more than one dissociative disorder. What is a dissociative identity disorder?
Abbo: Dissociative identity disorder is a disorder which used to be called multiple personality disorder. It is one individual switching personalities. Personalities with different age and likening.
Gilg: What is dissociative amnesia?
Abbo: Dissociative amnesia is a condition where an individual is cut off from the here and now. They can’t remember their names, where they come from. Something you don’t except someone to forget.
Gilg: What is depersonalization and derealisation?
Abbo: Depersonalization is when an individual feels they have changed. Derealisation is when they feel the world has changed it is not the same. Healthy people can experience dissociation. The biggest chunk of dissociation is normal it is a way of coping .Even in this court people might have been dissociated. Their mind might have wandered and come back.
Gilg: Let’s now come back to the first disorder. He (Ongwen) was a good shooter.
Abbo: To shoot very well you need to be in reality you must be able to use some parts of the brain.
(Prosecutor Gilg reads out a transcript of a witness’ testimony and asks Doctor Abbo to comment on Ongwen’s behaviour)
Abbo: I will comment on the transcripts. The first comment would be that”He was a people’s person. That is for functioning, social interaction with peers with friends and his family. (Referring to the witness’ testimony)Here it is when he was with his peers before he was promoted. The witness is talking about him in a positive manner. He (Ongwen) would eat together with people and cared about people. He went ahead to talk about his occupational functioning saying that he was tough in terms of orders but still remained a friendly person to him. Such passages support the notion that Mr Ongwen was functioning well including a statement of a person who would have been one of his wives. “He was good to us. He cared about us” and that he rarely beats them up. That speaks to the fact that even with family issue he was functioning well which proves to be a challenge to a person with many wives. I used the information on this transcript to be objective by rating using global assessment of functioning. That scale ranges from 0-100.Generally any person rated below 50 that person needs a psychiatric admission and any person who would be rated below 20 would have very severe mental illness and lack of any functional, societal functioning and would have high suicidal thoughts. However there were two aspects that I found against these. That is on page four, where Witness P-009 says that Mr Ongwen said that his education had been interrupted and there is nothing else that he wants.
Abbo: The other aspect is on page 12 .With all the good attributes that had been described, there was lack of empathy. This indicates anger and some antisocial behaviour. It did not sound to me as a bizarre behaviour. (Expert reading one of the witness’ testimony on Ongwen’s negotiating skills). “Commanders would question what Kony had directed…He (Kony) was protected by God. When I left the bush I thought he (Ongwen) would die because Ongwen liked intervening on what he found to be a wrong order.” “We have been given orders to perform this operation and he (Ongwen) said I am weak and I think this is a matter between us.”
Abbo: Apart from that there are indications that support moral development, page seven towards the upper part where it says “It was rather a long discussion between the two but I suspect that they were talking about us who we had been abducted. Kony and Odhiambo wanted us killed but Ongwen did not.” This shows that he (Ongwen) was forming his own values not in align with Kony himself. He used this in a way it was advantageous to other people and to himself.
Gilg: Does this example shed any light on whether Mr Ongwen had some degree of control on his environment?
Abbo: I think he had some degree of control on his environment and the fact that Kony listened to him (proves that).Whenever Kony wanted to kill someone and he (Ongwen) intervened they were not killed. This shows that he had control. My last comment is on page 19. Where a witness says,” I accessed his laugh as a sarcastic laugh since he accompanied the laugh with certain words.” Ongwen comes through as vengeful and this is shown on two occasions. The first one is on page 15 when he dispersed people to go to their position. “He then told people even us that we will go and work on civilians at Awere.’ They will know that we also have guns. Don’t leave anything alive because the people at Awere don’t want us.’ He is so deep in revenge like he is harboring some bitterness.
Another is on page 22.I think this is a scenario that happened in Court, where there was a reaction that seems not to be a response but automatic reaction, that he had not given thought to it. But when he starts to explain he says “It would be a matter of big shame that I would have killed myelf.For anyone who has caused injury to me I should not sit with him in Court.”
Gilg: That was comprehensive. Some few questions. The issue of vengeance that you have spoken to how does that affect mental illness present at the time, affecting ones behaviour?
Abbo: Revenge or vindictiveness is taken as an oppositional defiance disorder, where children want to pay back whatever someone did to them. They are irritable, oppositional, don’t take command. When I looked at this I thought it could conduct disorder which is more a severe form where children violates the rights of others or animals, they still remain oppositional. There is evidence that some of this children progress to have antisocial personality disorder and that is how I was looking at this revenge. What I would not want to do is divorce this timeline from the beginning and access what control he had from what point.
Gilg: To assume that this is taken when Ongwen was in his mid-20s and he was a commander what would you say?
Abbo: I would say he had control
The prosecution winded up on their questioning. Doctor Abbo will continue testifying.