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Lubanga Trial, Week 8: Militia Became “Family” for Child Soldier

The prosecution continued to build its case against accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga this week by presenting witnesses who delivered dramatic and revealing insight into militia life.

The prosecution’s eighth witness, whose identity was concealed, described how he became a soldier at the age of 10, after hearing gunshots and seeing people running on the roads one day after school.

When he returned home, the door was locked, and thinking that his family was gone, he and his cousin went to a nearby military camp.

There, he met a man named by the court as Commander A, one of the leaders in the militia of the Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots.

When the witness told the commander he was 10 years-old, the commander laughed, and took the boy to a camp where the boy and others were trained and armed.

The witness said his first task was to tend the commander’s cattle, and it was then that he first heard himself referred to as a kadogo, which is Swahili for child soldier.

The witness become one of Commander A’s personal guards, following the commander everywhere and doing all he asked, from buying things to beating and arresting people, or bringing girls to the commander for sexual purposes.

On one occasion, the witness described how he was beaten and forced to stare at the sun as punishment for having lied about why he didn’t bring a very young girl to the commander.

Occasionally the witness would encounter former friends outside the camp who were still civilians, but they would run from him.

He admitted to having arrested some of his friends, and they were kept by the commander until the parents paid money for their release.

Six or seven other child solders were also guards, he said, and were given ill-fitting uniforms that they eventually traded for better fits.

Asked by Prosecutor Olivia Struyven if he considered leaving the camp and returning home, the witness said he did not because his village had been destroyed.

“I looked at my commander as my superior,” the witness said, “but also as my family.”

The witness followed Commander A into battle, and at such times, he and the other child soldiers followed a rule that if one of them were killed, they would keep it a secret from civilians. They didn’t want civilians to think the militia was being defeated.

In one clash, the witness said Commander A abandoned his platoon and took the unit’s heavy weapons with him.

Angered by that, the child soldiers decided to hunt him down and kill him. The commander died, however, reportedly after stepping on a landmine.

Also this week, defense lawyer Jean-Marie Biju-Duval grilled an earlier witness over discrepancies between his court testimony and statements he made in 2005, 2006, and 2008.

Biju-Duval pressed the witness about dates relating to the time he was with Lubanga’s militia, but the witness was unable to confirm the dates.

The defense is expected to take a similar approach next week with prosecution witnesses. Most cross-examination, however, has taken place in closed session.