A witness in the trial of accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga said this week that his 11-year-old son was forced to enlist in Lubanga’s militia and taught to use heavy weapons.
“How is it possible for a child who is 11 to carry a weapon [that weighs four kilos]?” the father of the boy asked prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
His son had been kidnapped by soldiers on his way home from school, the father said.
The man’s testimony followed that of his son, who last week abruptly recanted his testimony during questioning and suggested he had been coached on what to say.
The young boy was the lead witness for ICC prosecutors, and the reversal was a setback as they try to prove that Lubanga was responsible for conscripting and using child soldiers in the militia of his political organization, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).
International law defines a child soldier as a combatant under the age of 15 years, and Lubanga is accused of using child soldiers in the ethnic conflicts that raged in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo during 2002 and 2003.
The young man was removed from the witness stand, but could return pending an investigation.
After the shaky start, another unnamed witness told prosecutors that young girls also were kidnapped and used by commanders for “sexual service” in the training camps.
“I heard the cries of girls myself with my own ears,” said the witness, a soldier in Lubanga’s militia. “There was a row of houses for the commanders [in the training camp] and you could listen to girls saying ‘I don’t want to.'”
The girls were also used as domestic servants and as bodyguards for the commanders, the witness said, telling the court that he helped train child soldiers and saw them shoot weapons in combat.
The father of the child soldier told the court on Wednesday that he also was a soldier in Lubanga’s militia and worked in the town of Bunia as Lubanga’s personal bodyguard.
He learned that his son was taken from their village at the end of 2002 only after it had happened, he said.
“The first thing I wanted was to leave everything to see my son,” he said. “[But] I was the bodyguard of my leader [Lubanga]. How could I leave my leader to see my child? It was impossible.”
The witness said he left Bunia around February 2003, however, when he learned that his son was in a training camp in Bule, a town in Ituri.
The man saw his son at a nearby market, where the son was on an excursion with his captain and other soldiers.
“When he saw me, he remembered that in my home, he was free,” he said.
The witness said his son did not discuss his military training, but agreed to return with his father to Bunia.
The boy resumed his studies, but when he was recognized by other militia soldiers while visiting a relative, he was considered a deserter, his father said.
“[My son] fell into an ambush,” he continued. “The UPC soldiers arrested and beat him. He bears a scar to this day on his calf.”
The father told the court he paid money for his son’s return.
The ICC’s victims’ representative, Luc Walleyn, asked the witness about the “consequences” that his son suffered from being a child soldier.
The young boy has abandoned his studies and is more “headstrong” than before, the father said. “Quite simply, he is my first son. All my hopes were laid on him.”
“I don’t get along well with my son anymore,” the father said.
When Marc Desalliers, one of Lubanga’s defense lawyers, attempted to probe the testimony by asking the witness about his initial contact with ICC investigators, the witness appeared confused, accusing Desalliers of “tormenting” him, and did not answer the question.