By Tom Maliti
Witness P-275, a survivor of an attack on the Odek camp for internally displaced people 13 years ago, testified before the International Criminal Court last week. Lawyers challenged the witness about his recollection of when he escaped the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and what he knew about the Odek attack.
Witness P-275 told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he never saw Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander on trial at the ICC, during the time he was an abductee of the LRA. The witness said he was abducted when the LRA attacked Odek in April 2004.
Charles Taku, a lawyer representing Ongwen, doubted Witness P-275 when he told the court he was with the LRA for up to two and a half months after his abduction. He presented the witness with records from a center that the witness went to after he escaped the LRA that seemed to contradict his testimony. Witness P-275 insisted he was in the LRA between April and July 2004.
Ongwen is on trial for his alleged role in the attack on Odek and three other IDP camps: Abok, Lukodi, and Pajule. He is also on trial for his alleged role in sex crimes and conscripting child soldiers. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to the 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought by the ICC prosecutor.
At the start of the hearing on November 6, prosecutor Beti Hohler presented Witness P-275 with a statement that the witness made to prosecution investigators on September 20, 2015. Hohler then asked him to identify and confirm his signature, which he did. Hohler followed up to ask him whether he was telling the truth when he gave his statement. Witness P-275 said he was.
“Do you have any objection against the judges using this statement when they decide the case?” asked Hohler.
“I have no objection,” replied Witness P-275.
Hohler took these steps because Witness P-275 testified under Rule 68 of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The witness is one of 14 prosecution witnesses that Trial Chamber IX allowed to testify under Rule 68(3) in a December 5, 2016 decision.
Under that particular provision of Rule 68, the witness has to appear in court, state that he or she does not object to their statement being used as evidence in the case, and be available for questioning by lawyers and judges. Witness P-275 was not in the courtroom in The Hague during his testimony on November 6, but testified via video link from an undisclosed location.
Once Hohler finished fulfilling the requirements of Rule 68, she then asked the witness to identify other documents. These included a birth certificate, an immunization card, a result slip of his primary school examination, school report cards, and a voter location slip. He confirmed that those documents were his. Because Witness P-275 testified under in-court protective measures to protect his identity, those documents were not visible to the public. They were only visible to the witness and those in the courtroom.
Hohler then asked Witness P-275 some follow-up questions and concluded her examination-in-chief of the witness. Jane Adong, a lawyer representing one of the groups of victims in the trial of Ongwen, was the next person to question the witness. Witness P-275 is both a prosecution witness and a registered as a victim in this case, making him a dual-status witness.
Adong, who was with the witness in the video link location, asked him about his life before he was abducted, his life while with the LRA, and his life following his escape from the LRA.
The witness testified that while he was in the LRA, he had walked long distances but had refused to wear the gumboots he was given.
“It was my opinion if I took those gumboots and I put them on, it would now mean I am now a soldier,” the witness said.
Adong asked him about his decision to escape. She noted that in his statement, he said that he would rather be caught trying to escape and be killed than to continue being in the LRA.
“I could no longer bear the hunger, the worries, my concerns for the people that I left behind…and all the bad things I experienced in the bush,” said Witness P-275.
When he returned home, he found that relatives of his had left behind children that are now his responsibility.
“The children are now grown up. They want to go to school, but it is extremely difficult for them to go to school because I cannot afford it,” he said.
A little later, Adong asked him about his expectations for the future. He replied that he would like his life to change so that he is able to take care of his children.
When Adong concluded her questions, Ongwen’s lawyer, Taku, questioned Witness P-275 about portions of his statement. Taku asked how the witness first came to know about Kony. The witness explained that his father told him that Kony was from the Odek area and about how the LRA rebellion started.
Taku also asked Witness P-275 about a portion of his statement in which he said he had heard from LRA fighters that Kony had ordered Ongwen to attack Pajule and not Odek.
“Based on my understanding and what I heard, Kony heard about the attack on Odek after the attack occurred. He did not know before,” said Witness P-275.
“Who told you this and when?” asked Taku.
“I came to find out about this information when we were in the bush. You know these people in the bush are funny. When people are in the camp, they talked about anything. The person who issued the order to attack Odek…[said the attack] was some type of payback,” replied the witness.
“Was it possible that anyone could dare attack the home of Joseph Kony without the knowledge of Joseph Kony, and Joseph Kony would do nothing against that individual?” asked Taku.
“That is something that could happen. It’s possible,” said the witness.
Later Taku asked about how long the witness was with the LRA. Taku said that Witness P-275 said he was in the LRA for two months in his victim’s application form. Taku then said that in a document from the Gulu Support the Children Organisation (GUSCO) center, where the witness stayed after leaving the LRA, the witness said he was with the LRA for two and a half months. Taku said another document indicated that the witness was with the LRA for nine days.
“Did you really know how long you were in the bush?” asked Taku.
“I do not know how some of this information came here, but when I was abducted, we were approaching the first term holidays in April. When I was going [back home], I went and found that they wanted to give the second term holidays. So, calculate that,” replied the witness.
“How long would that make it, by your estimation?” asked Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt.
“I was back from the bush in July,” answered the witness.
A little later, Taku continued with this line of questioning. Taku asked the witness whether his mother and a person named Simon had signed him out of GUSCO on June 8, 2004.
“There is nothing that I can say to that because I do not know what has been written,” replied the witness. Taku then observed that in another document, a social worker at GUSCO recorded Witness P-275’s entry into the center on May 7, 2004. According to the decision of Pre-Trial Chamber II confirming the charges against Ongwen, Odek was attacked on April 29, 2004.
Witness P-275 concluded testifying on November 6, before Dick Okot, the next prosecution witness, took the stand on November 7.