Thomas Lubanga’s defense lawyers questioned a witness on Friday about his use of child bodyguards and how he knew they were under the age of 15.
“It’s very difficult [to tell],” acknowledged the unnamed witness, a former high ranking official in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the defendant’s political party.
“It could be they haven’t been well fed,” the witness continued. “If you take a child that is well fed, and one who isn’t, [and] try to assess their age, it is very difficult.”
The question of age is important because Lubanga is charged with conscripting and using child soldiers, defined as combatants under the age of 15, to fight in regional ethnic conflicts during 2002 and 2003.
The witness told prosecutors yesterday that he had different child bodyguards at various points in time, including one particular boy who gave his age as 14. The boy was his bodyguard for two months and carried a weapon, the witness said.
“You had a bodyguard who was armed, aged around 14 years. Did you feel like you were committing a crime?” asked Jean-Marie Biju-Duval, one of Lubanga’s lawyers.
“Well, that didn’t even occur to me,” replied the witness. He said he knew the child’s family, and that his parents were aware their son had gone for military training.
“So as far as you know, the parents agreed,” said Biju-Duval.
“I didn’t consult the parents,” responded the witness.
The trial continues Monday.