Prosecutors in the trial of accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga on Monday said he not only conscripted young boys to fight in the Ituri region’s bloody conflict, he also abducted young girls for sex slaves.
Although Lubanga has not been charged with crimes of sexual violence by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo devoted part of his opening statement to the topic.
Rape and sexual slavery, the prosecutor said, became part of life for the kidnapped girls, who were also used as fighters and domestic servants in Lubanga’s militia training camps.
The boy soldiers were forced to rape civilians or punish an abducted girl who disobeyed the commanders, he said.
“One [boy] soldier became severely traumatized after killing a girl who refused to have sex with a commander,” Moreno-Ocampo said. “You will hear that as soon as the girls’ breasts started to grow, Lubanga’s commanders could select them as their forced ‘wives’ and transform them into their sexual slaves.”
Moreno-Ocampo said it was his “mission” to show that Lubanga was criminally responsible for the “atrocities committed against those little girl soldiers.”
The girls continue to suffer, the prosecutor said, because they are now shunned by their communities and are often not selected for reintegration projects.
“Your ruling on this case could change the lives of these girls,” Moreno-Ocampo told the judges. “In this International Criminal Court, they will not be invisible.”
While the Lubanga trial is the first for the ICC, it is also unique in that victims and their lawyers can participate. Victims may have the opportunity to speak about their experiences in court.
Opening statements from the victims’ lawyers also focused on the rape of kidnapped girl soldiers, some as young as 12.
“In case of former girl soldiers, rape began as soon as they were abducted,” said Kinshasa-based lawyer Carine Bapita, who represents five young female victims.
“Most of these girls suffer from psychological trauma,” she told the court. “Some were tortured. Rape as an arm of war divides [families] and fractures social and cultural links. They were denied the right to childhood, to be schooled, to safety, and a right to reproductive health and sexual autonomy.”
Lubanga’s lawyer, Catherine Mabille, will present her opening statement on Tuesday and is expected to address the accusation of sexual violence and enslavement, since neither charge is included in the indictment.