Monday, 19 November 2018

Expert witness testifies about spirituality in the LRA movement

Prof. Kristof Titeca a lecturer and researcher based at the Institute of Development Policy (University of Antwerp) testified as an expert witness at the ICC in the case of Dominic Ongwen on November 19. He testified about spirituality and how it is being used in the LRA. The witness has done research in governance and conflict in spaces where the state is only weakly present, particularly in Central and Eastern Africa. He has researched about conflict and rebel movements in the DRC and Uganda, notably the LRA and ADF in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as conflict dynamics in Western Uganda and he has closely collaborated with Gulu University and Uganda Christian University.

Prof. Kristof Titeca’s expert report was admitted into evidence in line with ICC rule 68 (3) regulating the admission of a prior written report and related evidences. He told court that he did a research titled ‘Growing in the Cosmological Space’ on request of Ongwen’s defense teamin which he interviewed about 500 respondents including 120 LRA ex-combatants on how spirituality is being experienced by individual LRA combatants and the meaning they give to it as well as the impact of spirits on combatants.

The witness told court that the LRA has several different aspects including spirituality and religion. He said spirituality is a manifestation of cosmology in Acholi land in general. He defined cosmology as the study of the origin and the future of the Universe. He further explained that the LRA uses this cosmological space to control combatants through believes.

“It doesn’t matter the belief but the impact of the belief on individuals…some had extreme belief in the power of spirits and Joseph Kony,” the witness said.

Prof. Titeca added that this spiritual space serves a range of strategic functions for the LRA as an organization, but also is a profound lived experience for the LRA fighters themselves. He further mentioned that in the LRA, Kony is the messenger who talks to the spirits and then gives orders.“So if combatants say spirits have said…it actually means Kony has said,” he explained. He also said some of the ex-combatants he spoke to had supernatural experiences such as dreams which had tendencies of becoming true, speaking to animals and birds et cetera and some of them continued believing even after leaving the LRA movement.

While responding to Beth Lyons- one of the defense Lawyers who cross examined him in-chief, Prof. Titeca told court that spirituality serves a range of control; from protection during battles, sickness and living in the bush in general. “Spiritual rules have to be followed, you can die if you don’t,” he said. He further explained that the level of belief depends on the length of time and experience in the bush. He  said that some respondents had reached a time when they saw miracles such as bullets not being able to shoot them. “Spirituality in the LRA took elements from the Roman catholic church, Islam and the Acholi Traditional religion,” he said.

While responding to Beth Lyons’ question regarding child abductees, the witness said children grow easily into the spiritual space. As to why somebody becomes part of the spiritual space, Prof. Titeca said there are ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. He argued that when people are cut-off from normal environment they easily adopt; and that spiritual elements help abductees as means of inclusion into the LRA. “It helps abductees to survive in the bush…they have to behave, otherwise they will be killed,” Prof. Titeca explained.

He went ahead to explain that the LRA movement uses these spiritual elements as a means to survive as an organization and hence the life of a combatant is very thoroughly regulated by Kony who is constantly visited by spirits. He stressed the fact that many rules come from spirits and others from Kony as well as through dreams, but Joseph Kony has a final say on dreams and spirits.

While responding to Beth Lyons, Prof. Titeca said spiritualism in the LRA was more prominent in the beginning than later especially after ‘Operation Iron Fist’ and the Juba peace talk era.

Defense phase of presenting their witnesses is still going on and they are basing their presentations on spiritualism in the LRA in defense of former commander Dominic Ongwen.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Thomas Kwoyelo’s bail application hearing postponed again

Former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Thomas Kwoyelo appeared at the International Crimes Division of Uganda’s high court sitting in Gulu for his bail application hearing on 15th November, however, the hearing did not take place because defense requested for an adjournment. Defense lawyer- Dalton Opwonya said legal representatives of victims demanded for more time during a status meeting held before the start of the session in the chambers. He actually said, following a ruling that was made on Wednesday 14, allowing some victims to participate in the trial, there is need to give victims’ counsel time to consult their clients before the bail application can be heard. He added that the prosecution had also just received particulars of Kwoyelo’s sureties therefore they needed time to review and verify, and that being a sensitive case, there is need for defense to do thorough legal research on the matter which also needs time.
Kwoyelo is facing 93 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity confirmed by the pre-trial judge on August 30 thereby paving way for the main trial to kickoff. On November 13 the accused denied all the charges. He is being prosecuted for violating Customary International Law and the Penal Code Act due to war crimes and crimes against humanity alleged committed in Pabbo during the conflict in Northern Uganda.
While responding to defense’ submissions, prosecution lawyer- William Byansi asked court to dismiss the bail application because the defense was not ready, but he agreed on behalf of the prosecution to the need for more time for victims representatives to consult their clients. Defense counsel Dalton Opwonya denied not being ready for the bail hearing noting that it’s due to victims counsel request for more time to consult their clients, “it must be respected,” he said.
Victims lawyer Henry Kilama agreed with the defense request for an adjournment stating that, “It is in the best interest of victims to be catered for… In all fairness all parties should be given a chance,” Kilama said. He requested court to order the registrar of the court to facilitate victims counsel to consult their clients.
In her ruling therefore, lady justice Jane Kiggundu who presided over proceedings noted that prosecution needs time to verify information of the sureties and victims counsel needs time to consult the victims on their views as regards Kwoyelo’s bail application. She then ordered that; the registrar should facilitate victims lawyers to meet their clients and that for every document to be served, it must be within a reasonable time frame. The bail application hearing was adjourned to 18th January 2019.
Meanwhile on Wednesday 14th court delivered its ruling on victims applications gathered and presented to the court by legal representatives of victims to allow them participate in the trial. In the ruling, the trial panel ruled that using pass-fail evaluation, participant group referred to as ‘A’ met the criteria to be admitted to participate while those referred to as ‘B’ did not meet the criteria and those referred to as ‘C’ can reapply upon obtaining further better particulars. The ruling took place at the ICD sitting at Gulu High court.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Former LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo pleads not guilty to all charges

Former Lord’s Resistance Army warlord- Thomas Kwoyelo has denied the 93 charges brought against him by the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) in Uganda. Kwoyelo appeared before the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court of Uganda sitting at the Court in Gulu on Monday 12, and Tuesday 13, November for mention of charges and plea taking. While responding to charges being read by the ICD registrar Harriet Ssali, Kwoyelo said, “I have heard and understood the charge…I did not do it and I don’t know anything about it.” The proceedings attracted a number of people including the Civil Society, and the general public.

Kwoyelo is facing 93 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity confirmed by the pre-trial judge on August 30 thereby paving way for the main trial to open on September 24, 2018 but it was cut short due to defense objections that the accused was not fully aware of the charges against him due to a poorly translated indictment to the accused. The trial panel was forced to adjourn reading of charges and plea taking to November 12 in order to give time for proper translation to Kwoyelo in Acholi language. The charges result from his alleged role as a top LRA commander during the war in northern Uganda. He has been in detention since the Ugandan army captured him in 2008, and his trial has progressed at a slow pace.

All the charges against Kwoyelo were brought under Customary International Law common to Article 3 of the Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Penal Code Act. In the indictment, prosecution alleges that the accused and others still at large commanded and took part in several violations of the law despite being aware of the outcomes of such acts and the law that protect the victims of such acts. The charges include pillaging, murder, torture, rape, outrages upon personal dignity and other war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Pabbo during the conflict in Northern Uganda.

Meanwhile during reading of charges, the defense objected redacted disclosure by the prosecution. The prosecution used codes such as C1, C2, C3 while referring to certain persons as a means of witness protection but Defense Lawyer Caleb Alaka argued that for the accused to plead, all aspects in a charge must be sufficiently understood. “The particulars in the charge sheet must be sufficient to answer…who is C4? If we can’t understand, he can’t understand,” added Opwonya another defense lawyer.
In response to this matter, prosecution lawyer William Byansi insisted that coding of victims was done in accordance with the law i.e. ICD rule 22 (2) of 2016 which provides for redacted disclosure, delayed disclosure and non-disclosure. “It was the only way to protect some of the most vulnerable witnesses since the trial had not yet begun…full disclosure will be done at a later date.” Byansi further insisted that security of vulnerable witnesses is still an issue and there is no other form of protection other than not disclosing their identity, he further mentioned that the scope of disclosure was not properly defined during pretrial.
Legal representatives of victims on their part held that it was almost impossible to know whether the coded victims have a dual status [witnesses and victims at the same time]. “It might not be beneficial to disclose at this point, but the question is, at what point will the court allow disclosure,” said Henry Kilama. He also emphasized that in absence of protective measures, thorough assessment must be done before disclosing identities. “Court should be guided by rules 21, 22 (3) (6) (7) of the ICD rules,” Henry Kilama a victims lawyer argued.
This matter prompted the trial panel to adjourn the session for 20 minutes so as to resolve the matter. When proceedings resumed the defense counsel allowed plea taking to go on by stating that, “The prosecution has consulted the accused and done restricted disclosure…they explained to him in details…we are ready to proceed,” Dalton Opwonya said.
Plea taking ended on November 13, and the matter was adjourned to February 4, 2019 for the prosecution to make their opening statement. The next item is bail application hearing set to take place on November 15.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

To survive in the LRA one needs to do everything asked of him; witness tells court

On November 8th, Odong Audi Kakanyero- a former Lord’s Resistance Army abductee testified in the trial of Dominic Ongwen at the ICC about his relationship with Ongwen, abduction and escape from the LRA. Kakanyero is a born of Corom- a village from where Dominic Ongwen originates.
Kakanyero referred to Dominic Ongwen as his brother, “I should refer to him as my brother because our fathers are clan brothers.” He narrated how the LRA captured him, Ongwen and OpioOloro from Corom on their way to Alero P.7 School where the trio were schooling in 1987. He also explained the initiationrituals carried out to integrate them into the rebel group, which he said created fear and thoughts that something bad would happen to him. “Smearing me with shear butter changed the world for me, I never felt myself after.” Kakanyero recalled.
While responding to Bridgman- one of the defense lawyers who examined him in-chief, Kakanyero told court that Dominic Ongwen was not more than 11 years old at the time of abduction. He further mentioned that they were abducted at a time when the LRA where still relying on stones to fight the government soldiers. He also recalled that while in the bush, they were always told that they were abducted because the new government was forcefully recruiting people to go and protect their cattle in Ankole [South western part of Uganda known for rearing cattle]. “…sothey said we were abducted for our own security, “he explained
The witnesses further told court that while in the bush, they were taken through various trainings by a commander called Omony who he said was a second lieutenant at that time and was in charge of abductees. “They said the training was to enable us protect ourselves.”Kakanyero said. Healso recalled how Lt. Omony attempted to escape from a place near Patiko but was captured and gruesomely buttered to death using an axe.
“…they ordered that Omony be caught and brought back or else people should be killed from his home village.” The witness recalled that, Omony was apprehended and axed to death in front of everyone as a lesson for those who wanted to escape. He told court that this experience coupled with several other killings witnessed later on created a lot of fear in him.
While responding to another question from Bridgman, Kakanyero described Dominic Ongwen as, “a very good child; well behaved and calmest,” amongst all the children with whom they lived prior to abduction. While in the bush, he said there was no time to interact with Ongwen because of constant pursuit by the UPDF. “The only thing is to keep praying to God to keep you alive” he said
He also narrated about his first battle which paved way for his escape three months after abduction. He told court that he was selected among 400 soldiers to attack John Garang’s [late] base in current South Sudan in order to obtain guns. Armed with logs and sticks, the troops were taken to the yard for prayers before setting off for battle. He described the yard as the holiest place in the LRA. While in the yard, they sung praise and worship songs to God to grace the battle.
In the battle, the witness said, he sustained injuries in the stomach and  was taken to a sick bay in Patiko from where he got an opportunity to escape. He stated that his escape was possible because guards in the sick bay were least capable of recapturing him than the ‘special forces’. He added that to be able to survive in the LRA one needs to do everything asked of him.
While responding to Bridgman’s question regarding how Ongwen felt after witnessing killings, Kakanyero said Ongwen was depressed but had nothing to. “If you are in the hands of a beast you have to do what he asks,”he said.
The witness further told court that when he returned home, he found out that Odomi’s [referring to Ongwen] parents were not there and after inquiring, he was told that they were killed by the LRA.
Both the prosecution and legal representatives of victims declined to cross-examine the witness

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Thomas Kwoyelo’s bail hearing at the International Crime Division postponed

On November 6, the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court of Uganda convened at the ICD court in Kololo for a bail hearing of former Lord Resistance Army (LRA) commander Thomas Kwoyelo, who through his defense lawyers filed for bail recently in an application written to the trial panel.

Kwoyelo is facing 93 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity confirmed by the pre-trial judge on August 30 thereby paving way for the main trial to open on September 24, 2018 but it was cut short due to defense objections that the accused was not fully aware of the charges against him due to a poorly translated indictment to the accused. The trial panel was forced to adjourn reading of charges and plea taking to November 5 in order to give time for proper translation to Kwoyelo in Acholi language. The charges result from his alleged role as a top LRA commander during the war in northern Uganda. He has been in detention since the Ugandan army captured him in 2008, and his trial has progressed at a slow pace.

Kwoyelo through his defense lawyers however applied for bail recently and court had to handle the matter before the main trial resumes thereby forcing the trial panel to hold a bail hearing instead, on November 5th a date which was earlier scheduled for reading of charges and plea taking.

In his preliminary submission however, defense lawyer Charles Dalton Opwonya asked for an adjournment because the defense was not ready to proceed with the bail hearing. “Our main surety Gilbert Oulanya-MP Kilak County travelled outside the country on official duties and Counsel Anyuru [another defense lawyer] who is mobilizing sureties is sick.” He said. Opwonya added that the defense is aware that the trial will begin on 12th November, “A trial which will take a long time…we are also aware that the accused has already been incarcerated for 9 years that is why we are interested in this application.” Counsel Opwonya added.

The prosecution team on their part was ready to proceed with senior state attorney William Byansi asserting that, “we came ready to proceed and already filed a reply.” The prosecution expressed their disappointment with the defense; in fact, prosecution lawyer Byansi mentioned that, “It’s unfortunate that the applicants themselves are not ready to proceed.” The prosecution went ahead to say that under normal circumstances, they would have prayed for dismissal of the motion, but due to the uniqueness of the case and also many interests, they shall accommodate the adjournment so that defense’s interest be given an opportunity.

Legal representative of victims Henry Kilama on the other hand insisted that victims’ counsels were not served with the motion by the defense despite the fact that they managed to appear in court; a claim which was refuted by the defense who insisted that victim’s lawyers were served with hard copy documents. Henry Kilama also emphasized the need for victim participation to be taken seriously through facilitating the victims’ lawyers to reach out to the victims before the trial resumes on 12th this month.  He further noted that an adjournment would give more time to interface with the victims; In addition, Counsel Kilama said that, the trial panel should consider best interest of victims in their rulings. “The adjournment should be allowed.” Kilama said in agreement with the defense’ request.

Another defense lawyer Caleb Alaka in his response to victims’ lawyers, held that victims’ participation in particular is contrary to the law at this point because the accused is still innocent until he pleads guilty which has not yet been done. Alaka also emphasized that court should consider the uniqueness of this case while delivering rulings.

Kwoyelo’s case is the first war crimes trial in the history of Uganda, and the ICD has had to create new rules of procedure that allow for victim’s participation and other requirements that arise out of Uganda’s international law commitments.

In her ruling judge Jane Kiggundu who presided over the proceeding ruled that, considering the submissions from all sides as well as the laws applicable in which the presumption of innocence is entrenched; she agreed with the defense request for an adjournment. “I agree with the submission of the defense counsel…the accused is therefore remanded in custody until November 15,” when the bail hearing will resume, she ruled. The main trial which resumes on November 12th will proceed concurrently with the bail hearing which will resume on November 15th, 2018

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

“Ongwen was a very simple person and he cared and loved us” the witness told court

On November 5th, a former abductee of the LRA from Aruti, Patiko Sub-County, Gulu district was examined by the defence team of Dominic Ongwen at the International Criminal Court. 
The witness was asked questions about his abduction into the LRA, then about his experience as soldier, and finally about his escape and return home.

He narrated a story of the time when he was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army together with other people, women and men. “The women” he said, “were very young, I can firmly say that a lot of them weren’t even adults at the time.” When asked if he tried to run away from the soldiers who were abducting him, he said that he had just one chance when the soldiers were distracted, but unfortunately it was the period of the year when the grass is really tall, so he couldn’t run too fast. The soldiers managed to catch him, and they punished him severely.

After one month in captivity, the army moved them from Kilak to Sudan. There he attended a training to become a soldier and join the army. The Defence lawyer inquired who was the commander of the battalion he was fighting for, after becoming a soldier. The witness mentioned the name of the commander was Okelo Triga.

The witness said that the higher rank of the LRA was the one of Joseph Kony, and that, although there were many commanders and Brigades Masters (BM), nobody else besides Kony could take decisions or defy Kony’s orders. Those who defied his commands were heavily hit and killed. The defence asked if they were the only kind of punishments. The witness explained: “One time we were based in a place that had some sort of prison, and it was used for the disobedient. However, after that base was shut down and the LRA moved somewhere else, they started killing them, it was easier that way.” Even Senior commanders, that were a very high ranking in the LRA, were killed as anybody else in the army if defying a command coming from Kony.

Showing to the Court a picture of the witness hurt and bleeding, the defence counsel, asked the witness about the battle in which he was shot and badly injured. The witness explained that it was an attack organized to be executed at dawn, so that they moved in the dark of the night following the indications of the intelligence of the LRA, who went previously to discover the place. Because of the darkness the attack wasn’t very well executed and a lot of them got injured or killed. The witness said he was brought back to the LRA barracks by a colleague of his and then taken to a hospital in Juba in an LRA vehicle. He stayed there to heal for two months. When asked about the vehicle, he explained with some uncertainty that it could have been provided by the Sudanese government.

The following issue examined by the Defence Counsel regarded some predictions made by Joseph Kony.  The witness explained that it happened two times that Kony could predict what was going to happen. The first time was around 2002-2003: he predicted a joint attack from the Sudanese and Ugandan army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Arab army. As a reaction he prepared the soldiers for a battle and attacked first.

He was successively asked about the role of women in the LRA and he explained that when they were brought in the bush they were assigned to the senior and junior commanders. The Junior commanders couldn’t refuse to marry the one they were assigned, the senior commanders (one ranking higher than the juniors) could refuse just one time. Sometimes they didn’t even know that they were going to be assigned a wife, but they had to accept anyway.

The witness said he met Dominic Ongwen and spent some time with him, but at the time he wasn’t a commander, he was just a Brigades Master. When asked about his character he said: “Based on my interaction with him, I can tell he loved jokes, he was a funny and careful person. He often could find time to sit with the juniors to interact with them, play cards together… that was his character. Quite childish, making fun and jokes. He was a very simple person and he cared and loved us.”  the witness said

Asked to describe to court the character of Joseph Kony, he said: “it is difficult to describe his character because he had his own life, it was difficult to really know his real character”.

The Defence counsel asked if the witness could recall something related to the time of the peace talks. He explained that he does, but that it was very complicated for him and his colleague to understand what was going on. At the time he was in Apu battalion group, affiliated to Kony’s base, it was one of his security battalions. He joined this battalion around 2008-2009, he said. During the peace talks he was hearing from his colleagues that Kony was taking a lot of time before signing an agreement. He said “the same Kony was telling us why he was hesitating to sign. He said that if the warrants of arrest were still valid, he wouldn’t have signed. He said with these words “if you see a noose you don’t put your head in it”.

The witness explained that the general feelings of the soldiers were happiness and optimism because they thought they could go back home. Instead they were sent to fight more battles. The Defence asked if at the time he had heard about amnesty.  The witness said that all the soldiers did, but that it wasn’t easy to go back home because there were many consequences.  “We could hear testimonies of former commanders on the radio, but we couldn’t understand how they managed to return.” he added.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Kalalang commanded the attack in Abok; defense witness tells court

On 1st November, a witness testified at the ICC about his abduction, LRA activities in Lango and Teso, Tabuley’s death and the attack on the Abok IDP camp. Opio a former abductee who was conscripted at age 11 said he was abducted by a rebel leader who he later learnt was called Kenneth, second in command to another leader called Lubul from the LRA group called Twinkle. He said Kenneth took him though routine trainings and he later became his bodyguard, “My role was to carry his bag, gun and chair.” he said. He told court that it took him three years to be given a gun of his own.

He also recalled a mission in Kitgum masterminded by Okot Odhiambo in which he was selected to take part. He recalled that the mission was to obtain guns from government forces. “The mission was not successful because we collected fewer guns than expected.” Opio recalled.

He further recalled that three weeks after the mission in Kitgum, they regrouped and went to Teso in a place called Obalanga. He noted that many deputies including Tabuley who was second in command to Odhiambo went to Teso. “Government soldiers in Obalanga attacked us first… Tabuley ordered us not to attack.” he said. He said the rebels instead tried to flee but in the process entered another ambush in which Tabuley was killed. “Lubul and Kenneth also died in Teso.” Opio added.

The witness also talked about the mission in Abok IDP camp in 2004 in which he took part.  He told court that they were selected by Okot Odhiambo to go specifically and collect food from Abok. He stated that about 200 people were selected but about 20 only had guns. The witness said Kalalang commanded the Abok attack. “Kalalang said we were not going to fight but to collect food only from civilians.”, he said

He explained further that they attacked civilians because they couldn’t give them food voluntarily so the rebels had to take by force. He was responding to a question by Thomas Obhof- one of the defense lawyers of Ogwen who examined him in-chief. He further narrated how the Abok attack was planned.

Mr. Opio told court that two girls were sent ahead to survey the place before the group could attack. He told court that the group collected the food but were intercepted by government forces before they moved far. While responding to Thomas Obhof’s questions on burning huts in the camp, he said, “I did not see any LRA rebel lighting fire with the intention of burning huts.” He further told court that due to pressure from government forces, they dropped the luggage [food] and retreated to their base in Akelo-Aliak where they stayed until the following morning when government soldiers followed them- a battle in which Kalalang was killed and others injured. As a result they fled to their main base called ‘Defense-Auma’ where Kalalang was buried.

While responding to Thomas Obhof about meeting Ongwen, the witness said he met Ongwen only once at a place called Lacek-Ocot which was a meeting point for the LRA commanders.
Talking about his escape from the LRA, the witness stated that he escaped during a mission at a place called Kalongo where they were sent to collect cassava. During the mission, he said the group entered an ambush in which three of his colleagues were killed, “In that mission only five people had guns and when three were shot I had to run my own way.” He said

He also told court that, “The UPDF shot you even if you surrender to them during an engagement.” He noted that during his time with the LRA, he witnessed UPDF shoot unarmed girls who surrendered during an engagement. In the process of running away, the witness said he met civilians who then took him to the camp where he was later taken to a rehabilitation centre.

Lead defense counsel- Ayena also asked the witness a few questions on why he remained in the bush for six years without escaping and what happens when a person violates orders such as burning huts or killing civilians when not told to do so. The witness responded that people who went ahead to kill or destroy property would be punished severely and if he had a gun, it would be taken away and the person demoted to a status of a trainee. He added that he didn’t escape because he was very young and that there were strict rules against escaping. “…they often told me not to think about my family or try to escape because they would come and kill everyone at home… that’s why I didn’t escape.”, the witness said