By Amony Immaculate.
A defense witness in the ongoing trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army wars Dominic Ongwen has described former abducted children as “never at peace.”
Dr Erick Awich Ochen was testifying as the 52nd defense witness.
He is a lecturer at the Department of Social Works and Social Administration at Makerere University and has worked with Gulu Support the Children Centre (GUSCO) and Save the Children, offering social psychological support to former abducted children (returnees in this context).
Currently, the defense is presenting their case. Atleast 52 defense witnesses have testified since the trial began in September last year including Justine Edeku Ooja, a former member of the Ugandan government-backed militia group, the Arrow Boys.
During cross- examination by Defense Counsel Thomas Obhof, the witness, Dr Ochen testified about his experience working with GUSCO and Save the Children where he interacted with former abducted children coming from the bush.
In his testimony Dr Ochen said even though he wasn’t abducted into rebel groups, he was affected by the war “…There is no single family in Acholi that hasn’t been affected by war, people lost livelihoods, they lost children, and people were displaced”, he said.
Dr Ochen testified on the returnees’ look when they were brought to the centers saying “…Those that came from the bush were unkempt, they look fearful, they don’t trust anybody around them, and they have fear that they will be killed”.
The witness explained that some returnees had wounds that needed medical assessment and so before rehabilitation begun, they were given food, clothing and a place to stay and they also had to be questioned by the UPDF.
“They were traumatized, having nightmares, being in deep thought, irritability, some had suicidal thoughts, and most of them were “never at peace.” He explained.
Subsequently, OTP Trial Lawyer Shkelzen Zeneli questioned Dr Ochen briefly about his PhD dissertation that focused on war in Northern Uganda and specifically the young mothers coming from the bush.
The Legal Representative of Victims, Anushka Sami briefly questioned Dr Ochen about the living conditions in the IDP camps to which he said the situation was “horrible.” “There was no food and water”, and “there was sickness and diseases among the camp dwellers” and many people died in the IDP camps.
The trial will continue on Thursday 14th November 2019 with the testimony of the 53rd Defense witness.
The prosecution phase of the trial began in December 2016 and concluded in April 2018. During which 69 witnesses testified in court over a period of 142 days, and in a recent statement, a representative from the Office of the Prosecutor said that the prosecution had presented testimonies of 116 witnesses.
The discrepancy could come from several witnesses whose testimony was admitted through Rule 68(2) of the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, which allows prior recorded testimony to be admitted into evidence if a witness cannot be present in court.
During the victims’ phase of the trial, seven witnesses testified over a period of eight days in May 2018.
Meanwhile the Presiding Judge has set March 10 of next year as the day when lawyers will start making their closing statements.
In an order he issued on Wednesday last week, the Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt set the date because it is “probable” all the evidence in the trial will have been submitted by December. Judge Schmitt gave lawyers until February 26th next year to file their closing briefs. He is set to give “further details” concerning the closing statements.
Ongwen has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he is alleged to have committed as a commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The crimes are alleged to have occurred between July 2002 and December 2005 in northern Uganda. Ongwen has pleaded not guilty to all counts. End