Prosecutors relied heavily this week on video evidence that appeared to show children in military uniforms with accused militia leader Thomas Lubanga.
“I saw them,” an unnamed witness said of the children in the videos. The witness was present at the filming of most of the video clips shown at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
However, in order to protect his identity, his role in the recorded events was not disclosed. The witness testified in French with digital voice and face distortion.
In one clip, Lubanga is said to be visiting an alleged military training camp in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He appears surrounded by a large group of people, many of whom look to be small children.
“The youngest [recruits] were about nine years-old,” said the witness, after the scene was played in court.
Lubanga is charged with recruiting, conscripting, and using child soldiers under the age of 15 to fight in the ethnic conflicts that raged in the Ituri region during 2002 and 2003.
He is the former president of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) political party and its military arm, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FLPC).
The witness said the new recruits in the video were those who wore civilian clothes and carried long sticks, while the more experienced soldiers had uniforms and guns.
In another clip, Lubanga led the group in song before launching into a speech about the importance of being courageous in battle. “This type of work is of great importance,” Lubanga told the crowd. “It can involve suffering.”
The witness also identified Bosco Ntaganda in the video. Ntaganda was the deputy chief of general staff for the FLPC and is currently wanted by the ICC for war crimes.
Other videos showed a group of soldiers, identified as Lubanga’s bodyguards, riding in the back of a truck. At least two of them appeared to be children.
While the videos played in the courtroom, Lubanga watched on his computer monitor, but often removed his headphones.
The prosecution alleges that the UPC demanded financial donations, and often the contribution of a child for its army. Prosecutor Olivia Struyven pressed the witness on this point.
The witness explained that some money was collected from some civilians, but not all, because most were too poor.
When asked if some were required to provide “other forms” of assistance, apparently referring to a child, the witness replied that he “couldn’t know.”
The prosecution also presented what they described as an unedited video interview that Lubanga gave to an unidentified British journalist. In the interview, the defendant alleges that it was the Ugandan army who “armed some children” in various militia groups in the Ituri region, not the UPC.
Nevertheless, he said that “now people are saying the UPC has child soldiers”.
Later in the segment, the British journalist accompanies Lubanga to a large gathering outside Bunia.
The journalist spotted a small boy in military fatigue pants with a rifle slung over his shoulder and tells his cameraman that “officially, the UPC doesn’t employ child soldiers.” He then estimates the soldier’s age to be about 11 or 12.
The same unnamed witness confirmed that all the soldiers featured in the video clip were from the UPC.
Earlier in his testimony, the witness said that he visited Lubanga’s residence in Bunia on several occasions and that the defendant had many bodyguards.
“The youngest were perhaps nine or ten years-old,” he said. “The oldest were adults.”
During the brief cross-examination conducted in open session, the defense asked the witness about a video clip showing a large group of children singing for Lubanga.
“Is this song a military song?” asked Jean-Marie Biju-Duval, one of Lubanga’s lawyers.
“Yes,” responded the witness.
The children in the video appeared to be part of a celebration welcoming Lubanga to their village, where the defendant delivered a speech on the “sacrifice” made by soldiers in his militia.
Noting that the children were part of the “civilian” population, Biju-Duval asked if they would have learned the song before that day. The witness responded that the children were simply repeating verses sung by a man leading the chorus.
Following the defense, Struyven then asked the witness if he heard a name at the end of the song.
“I heard [the name] ‘Papa Toms’,” said the witness.
“Who is Papa Toms?” Struyven asked.
“The abbreviated form of Thomas Lubanga,” replied the witness.