The trial of Dominic Ongwen continued on Tuesday 6th November 2018 with the testimony of the 10th Defence witness, Mr Francis Okot with the pseudonym D26-P-0024, a former LRA abductee turned LRA soldier.
The Defence Counsel for Dominic Ongwen, Mr Krispus Ayena Odongo, questioned the witness D26-P-0024 about his abduction, life in the LRA and finally his life after he escaped.
According to International Justice Monitor, Mr Okot said he was abducted by the LRA soldiers on 2nd July 1996 when he was 16 years old. He was abducted from his village of Choopil in Gulu district.
This group that abducted him joined a larger group which was led by the LRA commander Otti Lagon. Mr Okot said that an initiation ceremony took place whereby he was smeared with shea butter and became “pure” so he could fully integrate into LRA life.
After the initiation ritual, the witness said that his role at this time was to cook and collect firewood. The LRA group moved from Uganda to Sudan where the witness stayed for a while. While in Sudan, the witness said that while he wasn’t a leader, his role and duties changed from cooking and collecting firewood to taking new abductees through the ritual ceremony, blessing and anointing weapons, and helping Kony to look for herbs.
The witness said that Joseph Kony was possessed by many different spirits, and that these spirits used Kony to pass messages to the LRA group. According to the witness, these spirits commanded Kony on what to say, which enabled him to pass the messages to his commanders with clear instructions on everything that was going on in the LRA: for example, how to abduct, how many people to abduct, how to distribute the abductees etc.
The witness explained that from 2000, these spirits left Kony and didn’t visit him as much as they used to and his predictions didn’t come to pass as he had prophesied. The witness said that Kony at some point lost power and “that’s when people started escaping” because there was no fear anymore. When asked why the spirits left Kony, the witness said that Kony violated two things that the spirits were against: 1) the spirits said that Sudanese nationals shouldn’t be abducted, yet Kony abducted Sudanese nationals 2) Kony had many wives and according to the witness, Kony violated the rules because he had too many wives, beyond the number that the spirits wanted.
According to the witness these two issues made the spirits angry, and that is why they left Kony, as punishment. The things didn’t go well with LRA after the spirits left. “The spirits sent a message saying that they were leaving and would only be coming from time to time,” the witness added.
Regarding Kony’s leadership, Mr Okot said that Kony “never consulted with anybody” and “you can never have an opinion over him”. About the LRA command structure, the witness said that ranks were given depending how long one stayed in the bush and that they didn’t carry so much weight “you are given a rank just for appreciation but not for authority.”
He also said that Kony “didn’t seek advice from senior commanders but just direct them to do this and that” and “all orders come from him”.
The witness said that Ongwen was injured on his leg in 2002 and was brought to the sick bay for about one year. In that period Kony came and visited him.
When asked whether he heard that Kony had problems with Ongwen, the witness said that he never heard anything because he never took part in their meetings, “I don’t get close to them to hear these things.”
Regarding escaping the LRA, the witness said that if an LRA soldier tried to escape and was caught, there was severe punishment and even death.
The type of punishment was given based on the number of years an individual spent in the bush and his knowledgeability of LRA. If someone tried to escape and stayed many years in the bush and had a lot of knowledge of the LRA, when caught, the punishment was death.