A former child soldier told prosecutors today that he was abducted on three separate occasions by soldiers in Thomas Lubanga’s militia and wounded in battle.
“During a war, you have to fight,” said the unnamed witness, who testified in Swahili with digital face and voice distortion. He said he was shot in the leg during a battle with Ugandan soldiers in 2003.
He had just completed the fourth grade at the time and that particular battle occurred during his third forced conscription into the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), he said.
He was abducted for the first time when he was in third grade and walking home from school with a group of friends.
“We tried to run away [but] they encircled us and it was impossible to get away,” he told Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
The soldiers took the group to a training camp where they had to “run races” and learn to use heavy weaponry.
When Bensouda asked him about the ages of the other recruits, the witness responded that it was difficult to tell.
“Some were taller than me and I was taller than others,” he said.
After about a month, the witness managed to escape while running an errand for commanders. He returned to his village, he said, and resumed his studies until he was abducted for a second time.
The witness was playing soccer with several friends, he said, when the armed UPC soldiers appeared and demanded the children go with them. The group was taken to a training camp in the town of Bule, where they were put through training exercises and issued weapons.
Defendant Thomas Lubanga visited the camp often, the witness said, as did other top commanders, including Bosco Ntaganda and Floribert Kisembo. Ntaganda is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.
The witness said he managed to escape from the militia “on the way” to a battle against the Lendu ethnic group. He said he gave his weapon to a friend and returned to his village, where he was able to finish the fourth grade.
He was abducted for a third time when he was recognized by some UPC soldiers, who took him to a commander.
“They locked me up in [a] trench because they accused me of being a traitor to the [UPC] party,” he said. “It was punishment.”
The trench, he said, was essentially a very deep hole in the ground. The soldiers put him in the hole and then covered the top with metal sheeting.
He stayed there for over a week and was fed once per day, he added.
Afterwards, he was issued yet another weapon and eventually sent to Bunia where he was armed bodyguard at Lubanga’s house.
“What kind of weapon did you have?” asked Bensouda
“[An] SMG,” said the witness, using the acronym for “small machine gun.”
All the bodyguards – who ranged in age – slept outside the house.
“Well, we didn’t really sleep as such because we were in charge of security,” the witness added. “So we didn’t really sleep as such.”
When asked by presiding Judge Adrian Fulford if he was felt comfortable continuing his testimony, the witness responded that it was “a big decision” for him to appear before the court.
“I took the decision the come here because of the evil he [Lubanga] has done,” he continued. “It is said that everything has a beginning and an end. That is what I wanted to add.”