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Lubanga Trial, Week 6: Child Soldiers Tell of First Kill

Two former child soldiers in Thomas Lubanga’s militia this week told the International Criminal Court about the first time they killed in battle and how they are haunted by the memories.

Testifying in Swahili, both said fear of being shot by their commanders stopped them from fleeing the gruesome conditions of their training and at the battlefront.

One of the unidentified witnesses, a young woman, told the court she was abducted by Thomas Lubanga’s militia, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, at the age of 13 and was trained for just a month before being sent to fight.

The girl’s first battle was in the town of Lipi, she said, and the militia’s ethnic Lendu opponents were armed only with bows and arrows. The witness recalled shooting a man using her sub-machine gun.

“Do you know what happened to the person who you hit?” asked Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

“When I shot at him, I saw the person fall down. I was shaking from head to toe, and I felt very cold,” said the witness.

“Can you tell us why you were shaking?” asked prosecutor.

“Because it was the first time I had killed someone.”

When asked if the killing made her stop shooting, she said, “I continued shooting, but I don’t know if my bullets hit people.”

She said she was not aware of what the other child soldiers were doing at the time.

“In war everybody is worried about their (own) security,” she said. “I could not look left and right. If I had done that, I could have been shot by a bullet.”

The child soldier was shot in her leg in a subsequent battle and received rudimentary treatment before being sent to fight again. Other battles were against Ugandan troops and what she described as “French forces.”

Earlier, a witness given the pseudonym of Patrick by the court, told defense lawyer Marc Desalliers how he felt the first time he killed.

“Killing someone is not a good thing,” Patrick said. “When I shot and saw I had hit someone, and he fell down, it made me dizzy. Afterwards I came to. Then I said, if I run away, I am going be in danger, so I had to continue. But it disturbed me; my mind wasn’t working very well.”

Once in battle, it was hard to stop shooting, he said. “If you didn’t shoot at the enemy, the enemy would fire at you and you would die, and that is what would give you the strength to continue,” said Patrick.

Patrick said he was haunted by memories of war.

“I have bad memories … and that has caused great of delay in the development of my life. I am behind in my schooling. My age doesn’t correspond to the (grade) in school that I now attend. I also have the impression that my mind doesn’t work as it should.”

Patrick said he was taken into Lubanga’s militia in 2002, but deserted in July 2003 after taking part in four battles.

Although girls in the military camps also received military training, Patrick said he did not see them taking part in battles, but knew they cooked and slept with the commanders.

The unnamed female witness also said that while at the militia’s training camp at Rwampara, “our commanders would take women (recruits) and sleep with them.”

The witness also stated that those at the training camps and used in the fighting were younger than 13 years of age. “Some recruits were younger than I was, some were older, and others were my age,” the witness said.

Both witnesses said they had no choice but to fight for the militia once ordered to do so.

“If someone refused to follow the orders, he would be killed,” said the unnamed female former child soldier. In some instances, she said, those who disobeyed orders were flogged.

The prosecution suffered a setback when Prosecutor Nicole Samson announced that two of its witnesses would not testify due to security concerns.

The prosecution also said it had canceled an additional two witnesses, because previous witnesses had covered the issues on which they were expected to testify.

While testimony focused on the experiences of child soldiers, the witnesses stated that the militia was lead by Thomas Lubanga and his top commanders were Bosco Ntaganda and Floribert Kisembo.

Both testified that Ntaganda provided arms to the militia, organized transport to battle zones, and gave orders to lower rank commanders.

The International Criminal Court last year issued a warrant of arrest for Ntaganda, who is at large in DR Congo.