Special Reports

Ongwen Trial: Defense Lawyer Doubts Witness Worked Closely with Ongwen

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Dominic Ongwen

By Tom Maliti

A defense lawyer challenged a former fighter of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on some of the details of his testimony about the LRA’s attack on the Odek camp for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda. That attack took place in 2003.

Abigail Bridgman on Monday also questioned whether Witness P-054 was present during an LRA attack on the Abok camp for internally displaced people (IDP).

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Witness P-054 had testified on Friday that he took part in the attacks on the Abok and Odek IDP camps.

At the time, the witness was as a member of the LRA’s Sinia Brigade, and he said the commander of that brigade was Dominic Ongwen.

Bridgman is one of the lawyers representing Ongwen, who is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged role in the 2004 attacks on Abok and Odek.

Ongwen also faces charges for his alleged role in attacks on the Lukodi and Pajule IDP camps. All the IDP camps were in northern Uganda, but they no longer exist since the LRA stopped its attacks there in 2006.

On Monday, Bridgman also asked Witness P-054 about the LRA policy on abducting children, how he got his amnesty certificate from the Ugandan government, and whether women who had been made wives of LRA fighters remained with the men once they left the rebel group.

While asking Witness P-054 about the attack on Odek, Bridgman put a proposition to the witness that Ongwen was not present during the attack as he had told the court on Friday.

“I would just tell you it is a lie because I was there in person. The entire Sinia [Brigade] was there,” replied Witness P-054.

“And Mr. Witness, what would you say to a proposition that only 40 soldiers went to Odek and not the entire Sinia Brigade?” asked Bridgman.

“I would respond that that was a lie,” the witness said.

Bridgman asked him about a river in Abok because he had testified to crossing it during the attack on the Abok camp.

She asked him to compare the river in Odek and the one in Abok.

Witness P-054 said the river in Odek was narrow, and the one in Abok was wide. He also said the river in Abok had papyrus reeds in it.

The witness told the court that during the attack on Odek they never crossed the river.

“Does it surprise you, Mr. Witness, to hear me say that there are no rivers in Abok and that perhaps you are mistaken where you went?” asked Bridgman.

“That surprises me because I crossed the river,” Witness P-054 said.

Another proposition Bridgman put to the witness was that he did not work closely with Ongwen.

“I think that is a big lie because I was with Ongwen. And if I wasn’t with him, how would I know this information?” answered Witness P-054.

A few questions later Bridgman asked the witness whether he worked at the brigade headquarters or in a battalion when Ongwen was the Sinia Brigade commander.

“While Mr. Ongwen was a brigade commander, you know in the LRA people are replaced. When I was at the [Sinia] Brigade, most of the time I was in the battalion. With the Sinia Brigade, most people normally stay together because there were not many people,” replied the witness.

“When you say there were not that many people, would you say you were about 60 people then? Did you know everyone in the Sinia Brigade?” asked Bridgman.

“I said I did not know the number of people. But a brigade in the LRA is 500 people or upwards … I do not have a clear number,” answered the witness.

“Let us take the estimate of the 500 people in the brigade. How many would you say are in a battalion of the 500?” continued Bridgman.

“I said I do estimate that it could be around 50. The biggest number could be about 100 for a battalion … Not that many people,” Witness P-054 said.

Bridgman concluded her cross-examination of Witness P-054 before the lunch break on Monday.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt then thanked the witness for his testimony. Before adjourning the hearing, Judge Schmitt commended the prosecution for its management of its witnesses so far.

He observed that during the latest session of hearings, the prosecution took less than half the time it had proposed to question the witnesses.

Judge Schmitt, however, asked the prosecution to try as much as possible in future to provide a more accurate estimate of its presentation of witnesses. Originally, this session of hearings was scheduled to conclude on Thursday this week.

Judge Schmitt then said the court will adjourn for the summer recess. He said the next hearing will be on August 14 when Witness P-245 is scheduled to testify.

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