By: Tom Maliti
A defense lawyer challenged the account given by a survivor of a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attack on the Pajule camp for internally displaced people (IDP).
On Tuesday, pharm Thomas Obhof questioned some of the details Witness P-249 remembered under the stress of abduction. Obhof also questioned how the witness remembered what happened during the attack and after when, by his own admission, he was drunk the night before the attack.
Obhof was questioning the witness on behalf of his client, Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander. Ongwen is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged role in the attack on Pajule on October 10, 2003. He has also been charged for his alleged responsibility in attacks on three other IDP camps: Abok, Lukodi, and Odek. In total, Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Tuesday, Obhof questioned Witness P-249 on his testimony on Monday that some of the LRA fighters he saw under Ongwen’s command were between nine and 14 years old. Among the charges against Ongwen are two counts of conscripting child soldiers.
“You were able to estimate the ages of Mr. Ongwen’s soldiers and place many of them between the ages of nine and 14. But you were unable to estimate the age of Oryem and other males you saw,” asked Obhof.
“I said that there were some younger soldiers from the age of nine to 15 to 18, but there were others older. That is what I stated,” replied the witness.
“You were able to estimate all these ages during a time of high stress. Is that correct?” asked Obhof.
“Well, stating these ages, I only estimated them. I estimated to give the court an idea of what the ages of these people were,” answered the witness.
Obhof also questioned the witness about the celebration of Uganda’s Independence Day, which took place a day before the attack on Pajule.
“Now when you said merry making, that includes alcohol? Is that correct Mr. Witness?” asked Obhof.
“Yes. For those who drink, they consume alcohol,” replied Witness P-249.
“Were you drinking the Nile Special [a brand of Ugandan beer] or consuming the local home brew?” asked Obhof, provoking laughter in the courtroom.
“I was taking alcohol. It was Bell [a brand of Ugandan beer]. It was beer,” answered the witness.
Obhof then asked Witness P-249 a series of questions about how clear his head was when the LRA attacked Pajule the following morning.
“You admit that when you were attacked you were still drunk, but you could remember and witness everything that happened that morning. Is that correct?” asked Obhof. The witness replied in the affirmative.
Obhof persisted, asking the witness some more questions about whether he woke up sober the morning of the attack.
Later, Obhof pursued a different line of questioning, asking Witness P-249 about what he remembered of Ongwen on the morning of the attack on Pajule.
“Did he [Ongwen] look hurt or injured?” asked Obhof.
“From our location, he was not shot. From where we were in the middle of the road he was not shot,” answered the witness.
“So, he didn’t appear to walk like he had been shot in the leg? He walked normally?” continued Obhof.
“I said from Pajule he was not shot. Unless he had injuries before, that I don’t know. Also, you cannot be observing a soldier for a long time. It is not possible. What would you be looking for?” responded Witness P-249.
“Can you describe how Mr. Ongwen was walking?” persisted Obhof.
“I said he was walking slowly. He was relaxed,” the witness replied.
“So, there was nothing abnormal or distinctive about how he was walking?” asked Obhof.
“Ongwen was performing his commanding role. He was doing his work,” said the witness.
Previous witnesses have testified that Ongwen was shot in one of his legs in 2002, and he remained in treatment for several months at what LRA members referred to as sick bay, a mobile basic medical unit with a few beds that each LRA brigade had.
Obhof also questioned the witness about whether he was sure that after the attack on Pajule, Ongwen went away with his unit or whether Ongwen went with one of the senior commanders, Raska Lukwiya, who was present at Got Lulem, where several LRA units converged after the Pajule attack.
“If they [Lukwiya and Ongwen] were moving together, and I have not seen them, then that is why it is not in my statement,” Witness P-249 answered.
Obhof also asked the witness whether the prosecution ever asked him to get his medical records from the hospital in Kitgum where he was treated for a month after escaping the LRA with several injuries on his body. The witness said he was never asked to get his medical records.
Witness P-249 concluded his testimony on Tuesday. Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said Witness P-009 will begin testifying on Wednesday.