Expert rubbishes Ongwen’s mental Illness claim


Appearing before the International Criminal Court (ICC), Tuesday, Gillian Clare Mezey, said if Ongwen had a mental illness while he was in LRA, it would have been difficult for him to mask its symptoms from the people around him.


A forensic psychiatrist has dismissed claims that while in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Dominic Ongwen, former rebel commander, had a mental disorder.

Appearing before the International Criminal Court (ICC), Tuesday, Gillian Clare Mezey, said if Ongwen had a mental illness while he was in LRA, it would have been difficult for him to mask its symptoms from the people around him.

She noted that based on the material she reviewed; Ongwen did not have a mental illness between 2005 and 2008 when he was an LRA commander.

According to the International Justice Monitor, Mezey evidence was based on earlier testimonies by a court appointed expert and those of mental health experts hired by Ongwen’s defence team to assess his mental state.

Mezey also reviewed extracts of transcripts of prosecution witnesses who testified about their interactions with Ongwen while they were in the LRA and, also listened to some audio recordings of LRA radio communication in which Ongwen is heard giving reports to his superiors and fellow commanders.

Joop T.V.M. de Jong, a court expert, had told court that Ongwen masked a dissociative disorder while he was in the rebel group.

Mezey dismissed the claim as speculative, stating that the doctor did not test that conclusion with Ongwen when he was examining him, and that the testimony of LRA members about Ongwen did not refer to any symptoms of the mental disorder.

However, she agreed that Ongwen had suffered distress from time to time because he has been at the ICC detention centre.

Mezey explained that this was to be expected given the change in Ongwen’s circumstances, but his suffering distress did not mean he had a depressive disorder.

Ongwen is on trial for his alleged role in attacks on four camps for internally displaced people, sex crimes and conscripting child soldiers between July 2002 and December 2005. He has been charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Mezey began testifying on Monday. She is one of three mental health experts the prosecution has called to testify about Ongwen’s mental state during the period of the charges against him.

“All the evidence points to Ongwen having control over his actions, being aware of what was happening, being able to express a desire to act in certain ways. All of those features are incompatible with the presence of a serious mental disorder,” she said while responding to a question from prosecutor Colin Black.

When Thomas Obhof, a lawyer representing Ongwen, questioned her, Mezey said de Jong, in his testimony, described Ongwen as being friendly, relaxed and talkative when he met him and then he (de Jong) concluded that Ongwen was hiding a depressive disorder.

“That is a hypothesis and speculation on the part of de Jong. I have not seen any evidence that he tried to test out this hypothesis with Ongwen,” she stated.

Mezey added a little later: “Perhaps de Jong could provide an explanation or motive as to why he feels that might be the case. In practice, it is difficult for people to mask their symptoms because in severe mental illness, people do not have control of their symptoms.”

She described depressive disorder as being ‘a persistent lowering of mood’ and gave some of its symptoms as an individual having disrupted sleep and becoming socially withdrawn.

Mezey said an individual might also have their thinking slow down as well as their speech. They may often express unreasonable feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem and guilt.

Later Obhof asked if Ongwen’s belief in the spirit realm of the Acholi could be diagnosed as a form of mental illness, but Mezey said such belief was not a mental illness.
“The only descriptions of him have been of a highly respected, somewhat feared commander within the LRA. Indeed, Ongwen refers to himself being a good shooter and a good fighter. … Yes, I would expect his comrades to pick up on that (symptoms of mental illness) and to have commented on it,” she said.

Obhof then asked her about an incident when Ongwen drank detergent in the detention centre and whether that was something that a rational person would do.

She responded that Ongwen drank the detergent out of frustration at not being allowed a visit from an aunt.

“An individual who seriously wanted to die would be indicative of a depressive disorder. For Ongwen, not only did he talk about the reason for the act because he was angry or upset by the lack of the visit, but he also recovered quickly from this act. You would expect to see ongoing suicidal acts, ongoing depression, if he had a depressive disorder,” she said.

She noted that in the LRA, Ongwen was not seen as fragile or unpredictable

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