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Ongwen Trial Resumes at The Hague :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Ongwen Trial Resumes at The Hague

The trial of former Lords Resistance Army LRA commander Dominic Ongwen has resumed at the International Criminal Court this morning. The trial before Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt and judges Peter Kovacs and Raul Cano Pangalangan was adjourned on April 5th for more than three weeks of recess. Today, the judges are hearing accounts of an unidentified female witness describing her life in LRA captivity.
Dominic Ongwen, a former commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army now at The Hague.
The trial of former Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen has resumed at the International Criminal Court this morning.

The trial before Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt and judges Peter Kovacs and Raul Cano Pangalangan was adjourned on April 5th for more than three weeks of recess. Today, the judges are hearing accounts of an unidentified female witness describing her life in LRA captivity.

She is pinning Ongwen for raping her and other young girls, adding that she was transferred from one group to another. Prosecution questioned her to describe the roles that Ongwen played in Sinia Brigade and how he treated young girls under his authority.

She told Court that Ongwen was leader of Sinia Brigade and turned girls between the ages of 15 and 16 into his wives recalling that one of them named Fatuma lived with “Odomi” (Ongwen's nickname) as wife.

She is the eleventh witness to testify in the trial that commenced in February. This session will run till May 12th when it takes another two-week break and returns on May 29th.

Earlier, the Uganda government submitted a letter of assurance to witnesses testifying in the trial that they will not be prosecuted in domestic courts for testimonies they revealed during the trial.  The letter by Director of Public Prosecutions, Mike Chibita, was filed in court by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. This was after a combative member of the UPDF, who tracked and recorded LRA radio communications during the conflict in northern Uganda and other witnesses, requested for protection.

Ongwen, 41, the alleged commander of the Sinia Brigade is charged with 70 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual crimes. He is accused of masterminding atrocities on civilians in Lukodi, Odek and Pajule camps for internally displaced people in which hundreds of civilians were killed.

Prosecution witnesses that have testified in support of the accusations include a member of the Uganda People's Defence Forces whose identity and rank was not made public.  Identified by pseudonym as P-003, with face and voices distorted in broadcasts of the proceedings, P-003 was called to The Hague to testify about LRA radio communications he intercepted.

P-003 told Court that that the Ugandan military began tape-recording its intercepts of radio communications of the LRA soon after rumours circulated on local radio stations that the government intended to ask the ICC to investigate the LRA.

He was responding to questions by trial lawyer Julien Elderfield over when the UPDF began tape-recording LRA radio communications. Witness P-003, said he could not remember the exact date but the practice went on for at least 17 years.

The first dual witness in the case is identified as P-330, a former LRA fighter also registered as a Prosecution witness and a victim. He said he suffers nightmares to date, and the injuries he received while fighting for the LRA have never healed properly.

He narrated full accounts of his nightmares and injuries as part of his testimony as someone registered as a victim in the trial. He said he was abducted by the brigade that Ongwen led, and he later became an escort to Ongwen.

Before the trial adjourned, the International Criminal Court (ICC) heard for the first time, witness testimony of the last moments of the deputy leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Vincent Otti, for whom there is an outstanding ICC arrest warrant.

Witness P-205, another member of the LRA testified for three days before Trial Chamber IX describing how he witnessed Vincent Otti, another LRA member called Otti Lagony and someone he only knew as Okello being taken away to be shot.

Witness P-205 said Vincent Otti, Otti Lagony, and Okello were shot because “they were alleged to have been interested in escaping” from the LRA. He said he was sent there to get food.

Ri-Kwamba, roughly in the border area between Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and South Sudan, was one of the sites where LRA fighters had congregated in 2006 after peace talks began between the LRA and the Ugandan government. The Peace talks were mediated by the then autonomous government of South Sudan between 2006 and 2008.

Witness P-205 told court that he was arrested alongside the trio on allegations that Vincent Otti had spoken to him about escaping as well.

“For the killing of Otti Vincent, we heard the gunshots,” Witness P-205 said, explaining that Otti was not taken far away from the headquarters.

Witness P-264 told Court that brigade commanders were the ones who usually determined where newly abducted girls went. He said the brigade commanders decided to which leaders in their brigade a girl was given as wife, if she was considered to be mature enough.

Witness P-264 also narrated how new abductees were initiated into the group with rituals and harsh punishment. He said a specific commander was in charge of the ceremony that was majorly done in the evening using shea nut oil on bare chested abductees.

He narrated that the commander made the sign of the cross as he put the shea nut oil on their foreheads and feet, telling them the effect the oil would have on them if they attempted to escape.

“If you want to escape that thing will make you confused, and you will rotate and go back to where you came from,” said Witness P-264, explaining they were also told that the oil would protect them from bullets if they went to battle”.

According to Witness P-264, new abductees were also caned as part of their initiation into the LRA. He said each abductee received 100 to 200 strokes of the cane. He told the court he was not caned immediately after he was abducted but later when he attempted to escape.

Witness P-205 told how Ongwen instructed LRA fighters to destroy Odek village completely while other witnesses testified about LRA radio communications announcing promotions and how operations were planned amongst others.

Ends.