By: Tom Maliti
A defense lawyer took a prosecution witness to task for the discrepancy between his testimony about when he escaped the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the date of an amnesty certificate the Ugandan government issued to him.
In his questioning on Tuesday, Thomas Obhof said that elements of Witness P-252’s earlier testimony were consistent with the date on his amnesty certificate, rather than when the witness said he left the LRA. That testimony included the witness seeing a son of Dominic Ongwen, and testifying that he ate mangoes the day he escaped from the LRA.
Ongwen, a former LRA commander, is on trial for his alleged role in attacks that took place between 2003 and 2004 on four camps for people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda: Abok, Lukodi, Odek, and Pajule. The camps were disbanded after the LRA ceased attacks in northern Uganda in 2006. Ongwen faces a total of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Tuesday, Obhof asked Witness P-252 about his birth certificate, the places he went to when he was with the LRA, the kinds of prayers that were prayed in the LRA, and whether he knew Ongwen used to frequently go to Sudan. Obhof closed his questioning with the issue of when Witness P-252 left the LRA.
The witness testified on Friday that he was abducted in April 2004 during an LRA attack of the Odek IDP camp where he was staying. On Monday, he testified that he stayed with the LRA for one year and nine months.
On Tuesday, Obhof began his line of questioning by asking Witness P-252 about the amnesty certificate issued to him by the Ugandan government.
The certificate was displayed for Witness P-252 on a computer screen but was not visible to the public. Obhof pointed out to the witness that the certificate was dated July 1, 2004. He asked the witness why that was the case.
Witness P-252 replied that at the rehabilitation center he was taken to after escaping the LRA, some former LRA members advised him to state he had been with the LRA a short time, as he would stay at the rehabilitation center for longer otherwise. He said that is why he told the staff at the rehabilitation center he was with the LRA for a few months, which he said explained why his amnesty certificate was dated July 1, 2004.
“Can you explain this anomaly? This problem with your amnesty certificate of 1st July, 2004 … why it says it was issued 16 or 17 months before you came back from the bush?” asked Obhof, seeking further clarification.
“I did not receive this certificate while I was still in the bush. There was confusion from my colleagues who were used to the area [rehabilitation center],” replied the witness.
“Now Mr. Witness, the date here does not state the date you escaped. This is the date on which the amnesty commissioner signed this document. Now I ask you again Mr. Witness, can you explain how the certificate could have been given to you if you didn’t leave the bush until late 2005?” persisted Obhof.
“I mentioned it very clearly that the date in my document was according to what the children [former LRA members] told me,” replied the witness.
Obhof followed up with a series of questions about the application process. In response, Witness P-252 maintained that he followed the advice he was given by the former LRA members he found at the rehabilitation center.
He then turned to the connection between the mango season in Uganda and when Witness P-252 escaped the LRA. He reminded the witness that in previous testimony he had told the court he escaped during the mango season, which, the witness said, is between April and June.
“So, looking at the times, is late 2005 mango season?” asked Obhof, referring to the testimony of the witness earlier in the day that he escaped the LRA in late 2005.
“No,” answered the witness.
Obhof then asked Witness P-252 about the person he had testified was his superior while he was in the LRA, Onen Kamdulu.
“Now Mr. Witness, you also told the court today that you were with Onen Kamdulu and that you left him there [in the LRA]. Now Mr. Witness, how would you react if I told you that person returned [from the LRA] on September 4, 2004 and that person left the bush long before you allegedly came back? What do you say to that?” asked Obhof.
“I do not agree,” responded the witness.
Obhof went on to ask him about one of Ongwen’s sons, Bak, that the witness had testified he had seen with Ongwen while he, the witness, was in the LRA.
“Does it surprise you to learn that that boy died in the summer of 2005, which would have been before you left and escaped from the bush?” asked Obhof.
“That child, I left the bush when he was still alive,” answered the witness.
“Respectfully, I put it to you that you did not spend 19 months in the bush … and that your amnesty certificate is in fact correct. What do you say to that Mr. Witness?” asked Obhof.
“What I mentioned clearly was that the children that I found at the center made my filling my form difficult. In addition to that I was young and scared,” replied the witness.
With this, Obhof concluded his cross-examination of the witness. Ongwen’s lead lawyer, Krispus Ayena Odongo, also asked the witness a few questions and then concluded the cross-examination.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the end of Witness P-252’s testimony concluded this block of hearings. He said the court will adjourn until July 10, when Witness P-218 will testify.