The former child soldier who earlier recanted his testimony took the stand again today in the trial of accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga and told the court, “I am going to tell you the truth.”
Two weeks after he first testified, the witness on Tuesday explained how he and five classmates were kidnapped by soldiers in Lubanga’s militia at the end of 2002 and taken to a training camp.
“[The soldiers] said, ‘You, children, we’re going to take you,'” the witness recalled. “If anyone tried to talk, they were beaten.”
The witness said he was in his fifth year of primary school and about 11-years-old at the time.
In an unusual move, presiding Judge Adrian Fulford allowed the boy to tell his story without any prompting or interruptions by the prosecution or defense. All unnecessary court officers were removed from the room and the witness was shielded from defendant Lubanga’s direct view.
Lubanga, however, could still see the witness on his computer screen and stared at it, stone faced, throughout the boy’s testimony.
The witness has until now remained nameless, but today he was given the pseudonym “Dieumerci”, which means “thank God” in French. He gave his testimony in Swahili, and his face and voice were digitally distorted to those watching from the public gallery.
The beatings the children received the day they were kidnapped, Dieumerci said, only worsened once they arrived at the camp. The recruits were flogged with pieces of wood for even the most minor of offenses, including sickness or exhaustion, he said. They were also flogged if they could not complete a training exercise, misplaced their weapon, or tried to escape.
“Sometimes [recruits] were beaten by three people at the same time,” he said. “If [you] screamed, they beat you harder.”
The flogging was so severe that it left scarring on the witness’s legs and feet, he said. Photographs of the scarring were entered into evidence, but not shown to those in the public gallery.
Dieumerci went on to describe the poor living conditions in the camp, including cramped sleeping quarters which did not protect them from the rain.
“They didn’t care whether we had enough to eat or not,” he added.
Dieumerci said that all the recruits in the camp, including young children, were trained to use heavy weapons and eventually given military uniforms.
He described several battles, including the ambush of a Catholic mission.
“We went to the mission and killed those there, also the priests,” he said. “We cut their mouths off and destroyed their faces.”
The witness remained with the militia, he said, until his father managed to find him at a market in a nearby town. The father and son returned to Bunia and settled there, but Dieumerci was apprehended by soldiers in Lubanga’s militia while visiting relatives in another area.
The soldiers considered him a deserter and beat him.
“To beat people is their work,” Dieumerci said.
He was kept as a prisoner in yet another training camp until his father was able to pay for his freedom. After that, he went through a demobilization process with a humanitarian aid group.
“Aside from the scars, are there other consequences [from your experience]?” asked attorney Luc Walleyn, one of the victim’s representatives.
“The weapon I used impaired my sight…and I have pain in my ears,” he replied. “What is more, I’m still uneducated.”
Cross-examination by the defense was closed, and it is not clear if the defense will continue on Wednesday.