Defense attorneys for Thomas Lubanga on Thursday questioned historian Gerard Prunier about the history of the Hema-Lendu conflict and its possible bearing on the actions of Lubanga and his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).
Prunier, who holds a Ph.D. in African Studies from the University of Paris, published From Genocide to Continental War: The Congolese Crisis and Contemporary Africa in January 2009.
Lubanga, who is a member of the Hema ethnic group, led the UPC’s militia in fighting against ethnic Lendu in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The conflict between Hema and Lendu has been longstanding, according to some experts, and has been suggested as a historical basis for more recent ethnic-based fighting.
Defense lawyer Jean-Marie Biju-Duval asked Prunier to explain his claim that in 1973, Hema land ownership certificates had questionable legal status.
“In theory,” Prunier told the court, “All land belonged to the Belgian state,” which claimed authority over all of the DRC until the early 1960s.
However, Biju-Duval countered, “We are not talking about the Belgian state. We are discussing the land tenure system established under Mobutu in 1973.” Mobutu Sese Seko was president of DRC, then known as Zaire, from 1965 to 1997.
Prunier replied that it was impossible to discuss events in Zaire in 1973 without discussing the Belgian state.
He said the Belgian state had favored the Hema people, and this meant that even under Mobutu, they were able to leverage the police and other forms of state power in order to advance their interests.
In 1999, he said, the Hema used that military power to “steal” land from the Lendu.
After stating that the Lendu outnumbered the Hema, and that there was a long-standing animosity against the Hema, Biju-Duval asked if it was possible this group might have felt its existence was threatened.
“I wasn’t there, so it is impossible to know,” Prunier told the court. “As soon as a conflict is over, history is re-constructed. What I can say is that typically, when one group is a minority, they tend to feel as though the majority group is more powerful.”
Prunier’s evidence will be posted among other filings on the website of the International Criminal Court.
Biju-Duval will question Prunier again on Friday.