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Witness Trained Child Soldiers

A former fighter said he saw child soldiers trained for and killed in battles fought by the militia of accused Congolese leader Thomas Lubanga.

The witness, who remained unidentified, said he “saw them,” when asked by prosecuting attorney Manoj Sachdeva how he knew children were in the militia. “I was involved in the training.”

The testimony against Lubanga was the first the prosecution has been able to provide the International Criminal Court, which has charged Lubanga with conscripting and using child soldiers in the militia of his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) political party.

Earlier in the week, the prosecution’s first witness recanted his story that he had been kidnapped by Lubanga’s militia and taken to a training camp.

International law defines a child soldier as a combatant under the age of 15 years.

Lubanga stared straight ahead during most of the testimony, and often leaned forward, his hand resting over his mouth as he watched the witness.

Both male and female child soldiers were used predominantly as bodyguards and escorts for commanders, who “preferred children” for those roles, the witness said.

That was done, he said, “… because children are fearless and didn’t ask [questions].”

Lubanga visited the training camp, he said, which was full of children. “Everyone carried on a parade. Everyone was there.”

The accused militia leader then addressed the camp, and said, “the war will not be difficult,” the witness continued. “He gave us a talk to boost morale.”

After training, child soldiers were assigned to various companies, brigades, and platoons of the militia.

“Did the children fight in battles?” asked Sachdeva.

“Yes,” the witness responded, saying that he saw children shoot when commanded to do so.

Children were killed in battles because, “they couldn’t run as fast.”

The witness said he joined the UPC’s militia because Lubanga’s men threatened to burn his village.

“The officers would say, ‘If you don’t join our army, your village will be razed down.'”

The testimony continues on Monday.


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