A former high-ranking official in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) said on Thursday that Thomas Lubanga used children as personal bodyguards.
“As president he had bodyguards. There were adults but also young persons serving as bodyguards,” said the man, whose exact role in the UPC was not disclosed.
“When you have a young person as a bodyguard, he doesn’t have anyone to look after. That’s why we preferred [children].”
The witness testified in French with his face and voice digitally distorted. His first appearance in court on Wednesday provoked an unusually strong reaction from Lubanga, who was visibly shaken and abruptly walked out of the courtroom.
The witness explained on Thursday that all commanders and top officials in the UPC had bodyguards and that most of them were children.
He said he himself was given 12 bodyguards at one point, most of whom appeared to be about 13 or 14 years-old. “When the bodyguards were withdrawn, they were sent to the front, to combat,” he said.
Some UPC fighters were as young as 10 years-old, he said. “You will find children of that age bearing weapons.”
“Do you know how these children got into the UPC?” asked prosecutor Nicole Samson.
The witness said he heard that some of the children joined the UPC in order to have work. Others were recruited from families who were obliged to give a child to the militia group. If a family refused to provide a child, he said they faced “certain punishments,” but was unable to provide details.
He said Lubanga issued a decree in the spring of 2003 demobilizing child soldiers in order to pacify the United Nations and other human rights groups.
The decree was read out loud during a meeting between Lubanga and high ranking members of his staff, the witness said.
“We had difficulties with human rights [groups] accusing us of using child soldiers,” said the witness. “At that meeting, the president read out a decree demobilizing child soldiers so we wouldn’t have difficulties with human rights [groups].”
The defense started its cross examination at the end of the day and will resume it on Friday morning.