A survivor of a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attack on the Pajule camp for internally displaced people (IDP) 15 years ago told the International Criminal Court (ICC) he did not hear the name of Dominic Ongwen mentioned during the attack or when the LRA abducted him.
Richard Otim told the court on Tuesday he only heard Ongwen’s name weeks after he escaped the LRA. Otim said Vincent Otti was the only LRA commander who addressed abductees after the attack, which Otim said took place on October 10, 2003. He said other LRA commanders who took part in the attack did not introduce themselves to the abductees, as Otti did, nor did they speak to the abductees.
Ongwen, a former LRA commander, has been charged with 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the attack on Pajule. He is facing a total of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed between July 2002 and December 2005 in northern Uganda. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Tuesday, Otim told the court LRA fighters barged into his house in Pajule and took him away at around two or three o’clock in the morning on October 11, 2003. The LRA left his wife and children in the house. Otim said he was dressed only in shorts and was bare-chested and barefooted when he was tied to the waist with other abductees.
Otim said when the LRA had finished looting, they then walked away from Pajule but were pursued by Ugandan army soldiers for some time. He said a Ugandan military helicopter gunship fired in their direction, but the shots were deliberately aimed to the side. He said they eventually evaded the Ugandan army soldiers.
He said when day broke, Otti addressed them. He said Otti did this between 10 in the morning and noon. Otim said Otti released those who were 11 years old or younger, women, the elderly, and the disabled. He said all these people were handed over to an Acholi chief, Rwot Oywak, who was also a resident of Pajule camp, and they were allowed to return back to the camp.
Otim said he was assigned to Control Altar, the LRA high command where Otti was based. At the time, Otti was the deputy leader of the LRA. Otim said he stayed with the LRA for about a week and then managed to escape. He said he went to Ugandan army barracks at Patongo, and he was questioned by military intelligence officers and treated there for about two weeks.
Otim said his feet were wounded from the long walks, as was his shoulder from carrying injured LRA fighters on stretchers. He said after that, he was taken to Acol P where the army’s Fifth Division was based, and there he was given food therapy because he was weak.
Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen’s defense lawyers, asked Otim whether during the week he was with the LRA he heard the name Dominic Ongwen.
“No, I did not hear that name then, but when I went back home that is when I started hearing that name from Rwot Oywak,” said Otim, explaining that one night he went to socialize at the bar in Pajule camp that Rwot Oywak owned when Ongwen’s name came up.
“Rwot Oywak was saying that the group that attacked Pajule camp … Ongwen and Otti Vincent were part of that group. And they [Otti and Ongwen] were talking about going to Teso to follow Tabu Ley [a senior LRA commander at the tim]). When I was still in the bush, I did not hear that name [Ongwen],” said Otim.
When it was his turn to question Otim, prosecutor Kamran Choudhry asked him whether he had ever met Ongwen.
“No, I had never met him,” replied Otim.
“Even if Dominic Ongwen had been at Pajule during the attack you would have had no way of recognizing him, yes?” asked Choudhry.
“No, there would have been no way for me to recognize him … If Otti Vincent had not introduced himself to the people, I would not have known he was Otti Vincent,” answered Otim.
One of the grounds of defense that Ongwen’s lawyers have raised is Ongwen has an alibi for the Pajule attack. They did this in a notice in August 2016. The alibi is that Ongwen was a prisoner under Control Altar, and this is something Ongwen’s lawyers have questioned several witnesses about, such as Witness P-351 on November 14, 2017.
After Choudhry finished questioning Otim, Krispus Ayena Odongo, Ongwen’s lead lawyer, asked a few questions in re-examination. Otim, who testified via video link, concluded his testimony on Tuesday.
Witness D-81 will testify on Thursday.