A retired Ugandan army officer told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Dominic Ongwen, who is on trial at the court, is a victim of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Pollar Awich told the court on Tuesday that he agreed with the statement Ongwen made at the opening of his trial in which Ongwen described himself as a victim of LRA atrocities.
Awich testified on Tuesday and Thursday as an expert witness for the defense. His testimony was based on his knowledge of child soldiers, including the fact he once was a child soldier.
At opening on his trial back in 2016, Ongwen had stated that he did not understand why he was being charged.
Ongwen went on to tell the court that the charges were against the LRA, and the LRA is Joseph Kony “and not me,” and that it was the LRA that committed atrocities, including against him.
“My view about the statement from Ongwen is that I agree with it,” said the witness, Awich.
“It is correct. In a sense that, as I said earlier, the children who were forced to be part of LRA were, first of all, young.
“They are not acting out of their own volition. And even subsequently when they became [older], they were just acting, they were being used. They were not acting out of their consciousness. They [the LRA] could have used anybody. It is just circumstantial that Ongwen was in the theatre. I agree with that statement that indeed Ongwen himself is a victim,” said Awich.
“Just to emphasize that the mental work performed by the LRA on the abductees is strong, not like the political education we had [in the National Resistance Army]. Also, to add that the duration the children took with the LRA is long and therefore had more effect. The violence they experienced is grave, longer than us in the NRA [National Resistance Army], and therefore the situation of the children up to adulthood is grave and has more impact on them than it did on us in the NRA,” said Awich.
On Tuesday, Awich told the court that the National Resistance Army (NRA) abducted him when he was 13 years old from Nakaseke Hospital where his parents worked.
To illustrate the impact of being a child soldier for someone who was in the LRA, Awich gave the example of a person who had left the LRA who, when he would hear a lorry passing nearby, he told tell people, “they should go and ambush that vehicle because it is carrying food, something good.”
Early on in his testimony on Tuesday, Awich told the court the impact of being a child soldier stayed with a person long into adulthood, and each individual adjusted to life differently after their time as a child soldier ended.
Awich narrated to the court his own experience and that of other NRA child soldiers. He said after the NRA took power in 1986, they were sent back to school and in his case he remained in the army after school. He said he retired in 2014 with the rank of major. Awich said several of the former NRA child soldiers he went to school with and remained friends with “fell off the way” in the years after they completed their schooling.
“One friend who was my roommate all of a sudden ran mad and died. Another one locked himself in a room … we could smell petrol. Another sent his escorts to buy something in a shop. By the time the escort came back he had shot himself,” said Awich. He said the one who shot himself was an engineer.”