Uganda: Witch Doctor Defends Ongwen At ICC Court

LRA’s Dominic Ongwen on trial at ICC (file photo)

THE HAGUE- A witchdoctor on Tuesday walked into the International Criminal Court (ICC) courtroom to defend former Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commander Dominic Ongwen, who is facing trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It was a first in history that the international crimes court is hosting a witness conversant with the underworld.

Camouflaged and with face and voice distorted, the ICC courtroom went mute as an unusual witness, a witchdoctor, walked the three judges of the court through the spiritual underworld.

Mr Ongwen, who sat in the middle of the public gallery and faced the prosecution team, uneasily smiled as he followed the proceedings.

He donned a black suit with a blue tie as he watered his throat from white disposable plastic cup.

"Back at home (in Acholiland) most people follow jok (spirits)," the protected witness told the court.

At this point, defence lawyer Krispus Ayena Odongo, who was questioning the witness, said: "It's quite revealing."

"I know it's also difficult for the court and other people from different parts of the world to believe that spirits actually exist," Mr Ayena said.

As the witchdoctor delved deeper into the magical workings of spirits, dozens of legal friends, including Ongwen's defence team, looked scared.

This prompted presiding judge Péter Kovács to guide away the witness from taking them farther the depths of the underworld.

"Leave out the general issue of the spirits, but you could mention what relates to Mr [Joseph] Kony," the judge ordered.

The witnesses, PW150, told court that Ongwen, the former commander of the alleged Sinia Brigade of the LRA, could have committed atrocities under the influence of spirits.

The witness said LRA leader Joseph Kony deployed spirits to manipulate the minds and monitor activities of his forced recruits to fight the government of Uganda.

"If you are under the spell of the spirit, you only do what it instructs you to do. If it instructs you to kill, you follow what it tells you to do," the witness said.

He said Kony could be in possession of more than 10 spirits.

"Kony used his spirits to do wrong things," he told The Hague-based court, adding that had Ongwen disobeyed the commands, he could have ended up killed.

The witness said Kony's spirits were not controlled because he fortified his rebellion by capturing and killing all other witch doctors.

He said when Kony started killing the witch doctors, many fled their homes in northern Uganda. By close of yesterday, the defence had only presented two witnesses out of the 72 lined up to defend Ongwen.

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