ICC Trial: Witness angry with Acholi Chief for returning him to LRA after escape

Dominic Ongwen has been convicted by the ICC on Thursday. File photo.

By David Okema

Gulu/Hague, Netherlands One of the former Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] rebel abductees while testifying in the trial of ex warlord, Dominic Ongwen before International Criminal Court (ICC) recently, has accused Acholi Chief of returning him [witness D-79] back to LRA rebels after he had successfully escaped, 15 years ago.

Witness D-79 who testified before the court as defense witness under protective measures told the court on Monday, October 29, 2018 that up to date he remains “extremely unhappy” with Rwot Oywak, the Chief of the Acholi in Koyo Lalogi in Pader district, because Rwot Oywak took him back to the LRA.

He also told court that Rwot Oywak upon handing him back to LRA rebels promised him that he would return for him but never. Witness D-79 said instead he was severely beaten for attempting to escape from the group.

Rwot Oywak –  last year in June testified as prosecution witness where in his testimony, he pointed that Dominic Ongwen took part in the attack on Pajule Internally Displaced People’s camp (IDP) in 2003, one of the four case locations Ongwen is being tried on.

Separately from the Pajule attack, Ongwen has also been charged for his alleged role in attacks on three other IDP camps in 2004. Some of the charges he is also facing include his alleged role in sexual and gender-based crimes and conscripting child soldiers.

Ongwen has been charged with a total of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In all of the 70 counts Ongwen is alleged to have committed, they are from four case locations of Pajule/Lapul, Odek IDP, Lokodi IDP and Abok IDP camps between 2002 and 2005.

However, when Rwot Oywak was testifying, his credibility was questioned by Ongwen’s defense lawyer, Krispus Odongo Ayena who told court that the Acholi Chief was a rebel collaborator and was not suitable to testify as prosecution witness since he was also part of the rebels.

Rwot Oywak denied being a collaborator with the LRA and insisted any contact he had with the LRA was in the context of his involvement in peace negotiations between the Ugandan government and the rebel group.

“I respond to it in this way: my coordination and contact with the LRA then was in regard to peace talks,” replied Rwot Oywak while testifying.

But, giving his testimony late last month, Witness D-79 told court that he first tried to escape the LRA in 2003 when his group was in Pader district in an area called Koyo Lalogi and shortly after successful escape, he came to a white car parked, went to it and in the car was Rwot Oywak. He said, soon, Rwot Oywak asked him what he wanted.

The defense witness said Rwot Oywak then told him: “Let’s first go back (to the LRA) and then when we are coming back, we will bring you back (to Koyo Lalogi).”

Witness D-79 said he was taken to his commander, Charles Tabu Ley, and, in front of Tabu Ley, he was caned 170 times.

“It was not easy. After that I had to put on a skirt for about a month because my buttocks were swollen, and I could not put on a trouser,” Witness D-79 told Court.

Witness D-79 compared Rwot Oywak to Joseph Kony for failing to protect his life after escaping LRA.

“If I was to compare him (Rwot Oywak) with anyone I would compare him with Joseph Kony because he did not think of my life at all,” he said when asked how he felt after Rwot Oywak returned him to the LRA.

He further told court that he was abducted in 1995 and subjected to military training immediately and they had to trek to Sudan where the LRA had a base and he succeeded to escape in 2006.

Nonetheless, some of the testimonies were closed to the public because Witness D-79 was under court protective measures including face distortion, under the legal advice of Robert Andreas Kaarlsi.

Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt also assured Witness D-79 that under Rule 74 of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence, the court will not prosecute the witness on self-incriminating testimonies as long as they are true.

Asked by Prosecutor Shkelzen Zeneli whether the witness knew Ongwen, he said: “Yes, I knew him.” Witness added that Ongwen was given directive to command Senia Brigade after Buk Abudema, the then Senia Brigade commander passed away.

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