Ongwen's rank was to stop him from leaving, says witness

Feb 25, 2019

Witness D-32 told the court that Ongwen, a former rebel commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) joined the group at a young age and struggled to do the tasks at hand.

Dominic Ongwen was given a top rank to dissuade him from leaving the rebel group in northern Uganda, a witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Witness D-32 told the court on Thursday, February 21 that Ongwen, a former rebel commander of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) joined the group at a young age and struggled to do the tasks at hand.
The witness said he met Ongwen in 1990, and, at the time, he (Ongwen) struggled with many things in the LRA that adults were able to do. He estimated Ongwen was 13 or 14 years old at the time.
"What makes me believe he was young was because at that time when we are on the move, for instance when we are crossing a big water [river] that had burst its banks he could not cross on his own, so he had to be carried. He could not move over long distances," said Witness D-32.
Witness D-32 was testifying for the defense in the trial of Ongwen, who is facing 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ongwen is linked to the civilian killings in the former internally displaced people's camps of Lukodi, Pajule, Odek and Abok between October 2003 and June 2004.  It is further alleged that from at least  July 2002 until 31 December 2005, Ongwen was part of the rebel activities to abduct women and girls in northern Uganda, that were then used as forced wives and sex slaves. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
On Thursday, Thomas Obhof, one of Ongwen's lawyers, asked Witness D-32 what he knew about some of the promotions Ongwen received in the LRA. Witness D-32 said Ongwen was promoted to cadet officer in 1996, and it was common for someone of Ongwen's age to be promoted to that rank.
"Would you know why Mr. Ongwen was promoted to a cadet officer?" asked Obhof.
"Mr. Ongwen was promoted, first they considered the year he was abducted, the training and how he became a soldier, and when he became a soldier he also trained others and they were put in his care and they stayed with him … They found that he was very knowledgeable and experienced as a soldier. Secondly, he was promoted to be encouraged to stay in the bush," answered Witness D-32.
"How common was it for people to be promoted in the bush to encourage people to stay in the bush?" asked Obhof.
"It was not very common at the time, but they would promote according to the lot or the group of people, depending on how long they have stayed in the bush," replied Witness D-32.
The witness also told the court that during the time of Operation Iron Fist many people, including Ongwen, were promoted. Operation Iron Fist was an offensive campaign used by the  Uganda People's Defense Forces(UPDF) against the LRA bases in northern Uganda and then neighboring Sudan.
Witness D-32 explained that the promotions happened because some commanders were killed during that period, and they needed to be replaced.  
The witness concluded his testimony on Friday. Another witness coded as D-27 is scheduled to testify on Monday, February 25, 2019.
Uganda became a signatory to the Rome Statute of the ICC in June 2002.
In 2005, the Netherlands based court issued arrest warrants against five top LRA commanders: Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Raska Lukwiya, and Ongwen. Born in the village of Coorom, Kilak County, Amuru District, northern Uganda, Ongwen is alleged to have been a former commander of the Sinia Brigade which is one of the four brigades of the LRA.
Ongwen has been in ICC custody since 21 January 2015.  His former colleagues Lukwiya, Otti, and Odhiambo have long been reported dead.
However, their former boss Kony remains at large.

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