By Tom Maliti
Two witnesses testified on Thursday about what they saw when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) carried out attacks in the eastern Ugandan sub-region of Teso about 16 years ago.
In brief hearings before the International Criminal Court, John Mawa Okello and Michael Okwir described life during the time of the LRA attacks in Teso in 2003. They also described how residents formed a militia group, the Arrow Boys, to fight the LRA and how the Ugandan army later took command of the militia.
The two witnesses were testifying in the trial of a former LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, which resumed after a three-week break. Before the break, Emmanuel Ewicho was the last witness to testify. He testified on August 20.
Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed as an LRA commander in northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts. None of the charges against Ongwen relate to Teso.
On Thursday, Okello told the court he knew Tabu Ley was an LRA commander who was active in Teso and was eventually killed. Okwir testified that Tabu Ley was killed in October 2003 at Omid Primary School near where he lived and that he saw Tabu Ley being killed. He said he was told by people who had escaped from the LRA that after Tabu Ley was killed Dominic Ongwen was ordered to gather any LRA fighters who remained in Teso after his death.
One of Ongwen’s lawyers, Gordon Kifudde, questioned Okello and Okwir. Senior trial lawyer Benjamin Gumpert cross-examined Okwir on behalf of the prosecution, but he did not question Okello. The lawyers for victims did not question either witness.
A line of questioning Gumpert pursued with Okwir was about his testimony that he had heard Ongwen was sent to round up LRA fighters in Teso.
“And these people [LRA escapees] told you that Dominic Ongwen had been sent to Teso, yes?” asked Gumpert.
“They were just telling us now the people [LRA fighters] left behind [in Teso] Dominic was supposed to take back, but I was not aware where they were supposed to meet,” replied Okwir.
“And they were saying that Dominic Ongwen was being told by Joseph Kony, by the leader of the LRA, to do this thing, is that correct?” asked Gumpert.
“That is what they said when they came back, so I also don’t know whether it was Kony who told them or not but that is what they were saying when they came back,” answered Okwir.
During their phase of the trial, the prosecution called several witnesses to testify about LRA attacks in Teso and Ongwen’s alleged involvement even though Teso is not part of the scope of the charges against him. The defense objected to this testimony, but the prosecution argued it helped give context to the charges against Ongwen. The judges have repeatedly said they will assess the value of the evidence when they make their judgement.
Okello and Okwir concluded their testimony on Thursday. Witness D-85 will testify on Friday.
This article originally appeared on the International Justice Monitor.