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Commanders Ordered Child Soldiers to Rape

A former child soldier told prosecutors today that he was ordered to rape and kidnap women.

“When we were sent to get girls from families [in the village], the commanders said to … carry out activities which were not good,” said the unnamed witness.

“These [activities] entailed taking girls by force,” he continued. “That is, raping them and taking them to the place where we lived.”

“Did you rape girls?” asked Prosecutor Manoj Sachdeva.

“Yes, I raped once,” responded the witness, who said the rape occurred after a battle against Lendu fighters in the Ituri village of Barriere.

The girl’s parents and other people in the village saw the rape, and he said his superiors in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) also knew about it.

“All the military chiefs [in the UPC] were aware [of the rape],” he said. “There was no reaction from them.”

The witness, who spoke in Swahili and testified with digital face and voice distortion, is the third former child soldier to testify in the trial of former UPC leader Thomas Lubanga.

Rape was encouraged not only after a battle, but also in the UPC military training camps, said the witness. He was forced to undergo training in one of these camps after being abducted from his village at the beginning of 2003, when he was about 13 or 14 years-old.

The commanders, he said, told the young recruits that they could have sex with the girls in the camp. The girls also participated in training exercises and cooked for the superior officers.

“They said to everyone, ‘You’re free to take any of the [girls] and sleep with her,'” said the witness.

“Did you sleep with a girl?” asked Sachdeva.

“I was afraid to sleep with a girl [then], because I didn’t know how,” responded the witness. He added that the girls in the camp were around his age or a bit older.

The witness eventually managed to flee the UPC and find help from an aid organization in Ituri. He was able to finish secondary school and hopes to enroll in university, he said.

After the prosecution concluded, one of the victim’s representatives asked the witness about the consequences of being a child soldier.

“I was separated from my parents,” he said. “Children have to be with their parents, and this is very painful for me.”