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With First Witness Ruled Unable to Testify, Prosecution Scrambles

A former child soldier who recanted his story against accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga is unable to continue his testimony, the International Criminal Court ruled Thursday.

Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said the witness was not in an “appropriate state,” but wanted court officials to determine if the young man might testify at a future date.

Lubanga’s defense lawyers, meanwhile, criticized ICC prosecutors for taking the young man off the witness stand and preventing him from giving the court information that might benefit Lubanga.

“The witness said, ‘I lied earlier and I would like to tell the truth now.’ said Jean-Marie Biju-Duval, one of Lubanga’s lawyers. “It’s not appropriate that we are punishing him for changing his word.”

“I wish to emphasize that the interest of the court is in nothing but the truth, whatever that may be,” Judge Fulford responded.

Prosecutors then scrambled to find a second witness, and again encountered problems.

Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court to open an investigation into possible threats made against its second witness, a family member of the first.

Fulford said “no evidence” existed to support Bensouda’s request.

The request also drew objections from the defense.

“He’s an adult,” said Catherine Mabille, Lubanga’s lead lawyer. “We should bring him to court and find out if there have been any threats.”

The court ruled, however, that the second witness would not be able to testify until he is briefed about court procedure and issues surrounding possible self-incrimination.

When that briefing would take place was undetermined.

Because of what happened with the first witness, Fulford requested a report from the prosecution and the Victims and Witnesses Unit on the risks that ICC witnesses faced in the DRC, including possible criminal prosecution.

When Bensouda then asked the court to reschedule a third witness, who is an expert in the case, Fulford complained, saying, “This is not a very happy situation.”

Prosecutors were then forced to call a fourth witness, a Congolese civilian, who is expected to testify Friday morning.