By Tom Maliti, IJ Monitor
A former fighter with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) told the International Criminal Court (ICC) about his abduction 15 years ago and his role in an attack on the Pajule camp for internally displaced people (IDP).
Witness P-307 also told the court what he did as an escort in the LRA for the approximately two years he was with the group. Krispus Ayena Odongo, the lead lawyer for Dominic Ongwen, challenged Witness P-307’s testimony that he was a member of a group under the command of Ongwen.
Ongwen is on trial at the ICC for crimes he is alleged to have committed while he was a commander in the LRA’s Sinia brigade between July 2002 and December 2005. He has been charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the October 10, 2003 attack on Pajule IDP camp. He has also been charged with two counts of war crimes for conscripting and using child soldiers.
In total, Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
During his testimony between Thursday, February 1, and Friday, February 2, Witness P-307 told the court the LRA abducted him when he was 12 years old in September 2002. He said he was an escort to one of the commanders in the group that abducted him. Witness P-307 said he frequently heard people around him refer to signaller, and he said based on that he concluded the name of the group he was in was signaller. He said he escaped the LRA in April 2004.
Witness P-307 told the court he was among the people selected to attack Pajule around Christmas time. He did not state in court which year this attack took place. He said the reason the LRA attacked Pajule was because they had run out of food.
“I do recall I broke into people’s houses. I looted people’s items,” the witness said.
Witness P-307 said a number of LRA officers had escorts. He estimated the escorts he saw in the group he was in were 12 years old or older. He said he based this estimate on his own age as some of the other escorts were the same size as he was.
“When your group was moving from one place to another what were your duties?” asked prosecutor Beti Hohler.
“When there is relocation you pick your commander’s bag and you start following him. You will fold all the items, put … [them] in a bag, and follow him,” answered Witness P-307.
He said that when it was time to move location, “they would whistle and people would start moving.”
Hohler asked him whether there were times an escort could be in one place and his commander somewhere else.
“If you are an escort of somebody you do not remain anywhere, you go where he goes,” replied the witness.
Hohler did not question Witness P-307 for long because he testified under Rule 68(3) of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Under this provision, Witness P-307’s June 24, 2016 statement to prosecution investigators became evidence after Hohler took him through a few steps. These included identifying the signed statement as his, stating that he had told the truth to the best of his knowledge, and not objecting to the statement being used as evidence in the trial of Ongwen. Witness P-307 said he had not objection to it being used as evidence.
Another requirement of Rule 68(3) is that a witness be present in court and available for questioning by lawyers and judges. Witness P-307 testified via video link from an undisclosed location. He testified under Rule 68(3) following a December 5, 2016 decision Trial Chamber IX made to allow him to do so. Witness P-307 is the 15th prosecution witness to testify under this provision in the Ongwen trial.
On February 1, after Hohler finished asking Witness P-307 clarifying questions, Anuskha Sehmi asked him questions on behalf victims in the trial of Ongwen. Sehmi is a lawyer for one of the groups of victims in this trial.
Sehmi asked Witness P-307 about injuries he sustained while in the LRA. He said he was injured from caning he received. He said he was also shot once and was wounded in the shoulder and stomach. He said the gunshot wound in the stomach had healed.
“And Mr. Witness apart from your time at the World Vision [center] have you received any further counselling or psychological support?” asked Sehmi.
“When I returned from the bush I did not meet with anybody who was trying to counsel me. I only talked to my people at home,” replied Witness P-307.
Sehmi asked him whether he had suffered any psychological problems since leaving the LRA.
“Well there were so many things that happened in the bush, a lot of grievous things … Sometimes you can dream you are in an attack, you are fighting with soldiers,” replied the witness.
Sehmi concluded questioning Witness P-307 on February 1. Odongo began cross-examining him on February 2. One of the first things Odongo asked Witness P-307 to do was to describe Ongwen.
“He was always neat. And when he was walking, he was walking as if one of the legs was short, as if he was lame on one side,” said the witness.
Odongo later told the witness that according to information the defense had the commander the witness reported to was never under the direct command of Ongwen. Witness P-307 said his commander was under Ongwen’s command.
This commander Odongo referred to was named as person number two in open court to protect the identity of the witness. This was one of the in-court protective measures taken to prevent the identity of the witness from being made public.
“And may I also suggest to you that the person who came to observe the training could have been somebody else, not Dominic Ongwen?” said Odongo.
He was referring to testimony the witness had given that after his abduction he spent about two days in training doing military drills and other things. Witness P-307 said during that time Ongwen observed the newly abducted people training.
“I cannot say that, that I saw someone else. I saw Dominic Ongwen because he is the one who threatened me and put a knife to my chest,” replied the witness.
Earlier on February 2, he had testified that soon after his abduction he was sent to collect red sandals from where senior officers were meeting. Witness P-307 said at the time he did not how things were done in the LRA and so he just stepped into the space where the officers were meeting without standing at attention or saluting. He said Ongwen stood up and asked why a civilian had come to them and then Ongwen put a knife to his chest.
A little later Odongo continued to challenge Witness P-307 about what he knew about Ongwen. Odongo asked him whether he knew Ongwen was arrested at one point. The witness said he did not know.
“Would it therefore surprise you Mr. Witness that in November 2002 Dominic Ongwen was seriously injured, shot in the knee, and was put in the sick bay for more than eight months. Would that surprise you?” asked Odongo.
“I did not have that knowledge and this is the first time I am hearing about it,” replied Witness P-307.
A little later Odongo put the proposition to Witness P-307 that he was not in a group that was under the command of Ongwen.
“I put it to you that from your narrative, what you know about the LRA movement and the fact that you did not know about the injury of Dominic Ongwen, you were never closely in the company of Dominic Ongwen because you do not know some of these things. What do you say about that?” asked Odongo.
“Well, I cannot respond anything to that, but I have already told you what I know,” answered Witness P-307.
Odongo concluded questioning Witness P-307 on February 2. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the next hearing will be on February 19, and Witness P-406 is scheduled to testify.
This article was first published on the International Justice Monitor website.