A former child soldier told prosecutors this week that commanders in defendant Thomas Lubanga’s militia ordered the recruits to rape.
“Did you rape girls?” Prosecutor Manoj Sachdeva asked the unnamed witness.
“Yes, I raped once,” the witness said, explaining that the rape occurred after a battle against ethnic 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 commanders instructed the soldiers to take girls “by force,” he said. “That is, raping them and taking them to the place where we lived.”
The witness, who spoke in Swahili with digital face and voice distortion, is the third former child soldier to testify in the trial of former UPC leader Lubanga.
Lubanga is charged with recruiting, conscripting, and using child soldiers, defined as fighters under the age of 15, in the ethnic conflicts that raged in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during 2002 and 2003.
The witness told the court that UPC soldiers abducted him at the beginning of 2003, when he was in his second year of secondary school. He was about 13 or 14 years-old at the time, he said.
He saw the soldiers approaching his school and fled to his home, he said, but the soldiers followed him there.
“[The soldiers] asked my parents to ‘shut up,’ [and that] if they said anything, they would be killed,” the witness said.
On the way to the training camp, he said, the soldiers “sang military songs and told us not to be afraid.”
“Were you afraid?” asked Sachdeva.
“Yes, very afraid,” the witness said. “…Military service is not something for us as children.”
At the camp, the recruits learned how to shoot, clean, and dismantle weapons, he said. “When I shot for the first time…It was so powerful it pulled me forward,” he said.
The recruits were beaten with sticks if they could not complete the training exercises or missed a shooting target, the witness added.
He then described an incident where a fellow conscript was shot to death for losing his weapon.
“If you commit a violation, a close friend of yours will kill you,” he said, adding that the boy was “placed before us and shot at” by another recruit.
Rape was also encouraged in the camp, the witness said.
Some of the children training to be soldiers were girls, and the commanders told the young recruits that they could have sex with these girls.
“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 about his age or a little older.
After the training was finished, the witness said he was immediately sent to the village of Lipri to fight against the Lendus.
He was afraid at first, he said, but the commanders promised the soldiers a better life after the war.
“[They said] Thomas Lubanga would become president of the DRC [and] we would have lots of things,” he said.
During the battle, the witness said he was crawling on his stomach and accidentally lifted up this leg. A bullet “ripped open” his heel, he said, requiring stitches at a nearby hospital.
After the wound was treated, the witness said he returned to Lipri and took part in a celebratory looting of the village with his fellow soldiers.
“Looting was our salary,” he said, adding that the soldiers only got to keep what the commanders didn’t want.
The defense questioned the witness on the pillaging during the brief portion of the cross examination conducted in open session.
“Did [your] injury not prevent you from… looting?” asked Jean-Marie Biju-Duval, one of Lubanga’s lawyers.
“If you didn’t pillage, it would be like you didn’t do anything [in the battle],” answered the witness. “After getting stitches, I had to…follow along with the others [and] rejoice with them.”
The witness said he eventually fled from the UPC and found help from an aid organization in Ituri. He was able to finish secondary school and hoped to enroll in university, he said.
One of the court’s representatives for victims in the conflict asked the witness if he still suffered physical consequences from his foot injury.
“Yes,” the former fighter said. “But most of the time when I look at the wound it brings back very bad memories…I really regret all that happened during the war.”
On Friday, prosecutors presented their fourth former child soldier, who told the court that he had volunteered for the militia.
“We had nothing to do, so we went with [the soldiers],” the witness told Prosecutor Julieta Solano McCausland.
The witness explained that his fourth-grade education was interrupted due to the war in Ituri. As a result, he spent time in other villages “digging for gold,” until the day he encountered a vehicle of soldiers from the UPC.
“I was with friends and suddenly we saw group of soldiers coming,” he said. “Some of us ran away.”
The ones who ran away, he explained, knew the soldiers were coming to take them. Others, like him, “knew nothing about the situation and stayed there.”
“At that point in time, did you understand what military service was?” asked Solano McCausland.
“No,” the witness said.
The witness continues his testimony next week.