Escaping from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) came at a great cost, according to a witness testifying at the Dominic Ongwen trial in The Hague. Trying to fit into society after a long absence and dealing with stigma from community members presented a great challenge for those who returned from the bush.
The Ongwen trial resumed on Monday, February 19, 2018 with the 62nd prosecution witness taking the stand. Witness P-406 told the Trial Chamber IX of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that after he escaped from the bush in 2004 the community he came back to stigmatised him for being in the rebel group and extended the blame for his actions over to his family members.
Testifying under a pseudonym, with his face masked, voice distorted, and a lawyer, Amos Waldman, appointed to help him avoid incriminating himself, the witness gave an example of when his father was involved in an argument and someone told him “Oh, you are behaving like your son.” Because of this, the witness said that whenever he goes to a place, he had mastered the art of looking humble.
Witness P-406 also testified about how he still experiences nightmares. He gave testimony of attacks on Awere, Lukodi and Odek camps and told the judges about how LRA fighters cooked and ate the bodies of people at Gach-Pachulu before the government soldiers came and scattered them.
Here is an excerpt of the testimony led by Prosecutor Benjamin Gumpert :
Gumpert: What was the age of the youngest abductees?
Witness: Perhaps 11, 12 years old — those were the youngest I could see.
Gumpert: Those that you have talked about so far, was it only boys abducted?
Witness: Both boys and girls.
Gumpert: Did you receive training in the LRA?
Gumpert: In which country were you when you received this training?
Witness: I was in Sudan.
Witness: At Gach-Pachulu, the LRA cooked the bodies of people and we ate. The government soldiers came and scattered the group present.
Gumpert: Were you present or heard this from other people?
Witness: I was not there.
(Gumpert shifts his questions to the attack at Awere in which Witness P-406 participated)
Gumpert: Was Person Number One with you in this attack at Awere?
Witness: He went back to loot from the shop and he was shot from there.
Gumpert: Shot and killed?
Witness: Yes, killed.
Gumpert: Your Honour, let’s go into private session for one or two questions?
(Court goes on a private session and resumes with Gumpert questioning the witness)
Gumpert: After your training, do you remember when you returned to Uganda?
Witness: We came back to Uganda around February or March in 2003; that is when we came back to Uganda… When we were in that area they told us that they wanted us to go to Soroti.
Gumpert: Can you tell us [how old] the youngest of those abducted children was?
Witness: Eleven, 12 years old — the youngest were around that
Gumpert: What happens to these abductees?
Witness: When they abduct people they distribute [them] among themselves; it is difficult to determine the number abducted.
Gumpert: Can you remember which commanders, after Odek, were distributing abductees?
Witness: The commander distributing abductees was known as Okwee.
Gumpert: Among the attackers in Odek, not the abductees now, what was the age of the youngest person? Those who were selected at Odek?
Witness: In the bush even when you are young you are armed. When they kill the soldiers they give you arms…He said that civilians should not be shot at, just soldiers.
Gumpert: What measures did they use on civilians?
Witness: For stubborn civilians, they could be tied and hit. Sometimes, they are hit by a club, middle size — they call it ‘dul’ — sometimes until they die.
Gumpert: Did you go to Lukodi Camp?
Gumpert: How many people went to Lukodi?
Witness: I estimate it to be 40 and above, everyone combined. New recruits don’t have guns their role to make noise and beat jericans. I am only estimating since you are not allowed to count when there
Gumpert: You told us you were there with Person Number Two, your commander, is that right?
Witness: Yes, it is correct. Once people are lined up you move to your commander.
Gumpert: You said Ongwen issued orders for the attack. Did you see him line up or not?
Witness: I saw him from the position [where] people were selected. When we are moving, people leave the position and split into groups depending on what directions you are taking.
Gumpert: What weapons did you use?
Gumpert: Your honours, I will now handle matters that will be dealt in private session.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt: Private session.
The trial continued on Tuesday, February 20, 2018 with the defence’s cross-examination.
Read more: https://www.jfjustice.net/en/icc-cases/escape-attempts-from-the-lra-were-punished-by-death-witness-icc