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Witness: Heads Shaved with Broken Glass

A female former child soldier testifying at the trial of Thomas Lubanga on Thursday said that recruits in Lubanga’s militia were subjected to brutal training and indoctrination that included having their heads shaved with broken glass.

The unnamed witness, whose voice and face were digitally distorted to shield her identity, said those who disobeyed orders were severely punished, and that commanders routinely slept with kidnapped young girls.

Both male and female conscripts bathed together in a river near the training camp, usually three times a week and without soap, according to the witness.

Much of the witness’s testimony was given in closed session. Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said the court had granted the witness’s request to give her story uninterrupted before taking questions from prosecutors.

The soldiers who abducted her wore civilian clothes, she said, but were armed with sub-machine guns and rifles. They selected only those who were under 20 years of age.

“Do you know why nobody resisted (abduction)?” asked by Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

“We were taken forcefully. If you tried to refuse, you could be shot,” responded the witness.

When Bensouda asked what happened to the abductees once they got to the military camp, the witness said, “They shaved our heads with pieces of broken glass, and some of us were wounded on the head.”

Every morning the conscripts were awoken at 4 a.m. and made to run from the camp to Rwampara village, which was about 8 km. away, she said.

“After running, we did push-ups, (then) we would crawl, climb walls, go jumping, and we had to jump into holes,” the witness said.

The training lasted late into the night, after which there were singing sessions “to boost our morale,” she said. The conscripts normally went to bed at 11 p.m.

The witness told the court she was abducted sometime in 2002 at the age of 13, while fleeing fighting in Bunia. Together with others, some younger than 13 years of age, they were taken to Rwampara and then to Mandro for military training.

The witness testified that she fought as part of Lubanga’s militia in seven different towns and suffered a gunshot to the leg during fighting in the town of Mbau against ethnic Lendu units.

One of the battles was against Ugandan troops, she said, and another was against French soldiers who had ordered Lubanga’s troops out of Bunia, she said.

In all battles, child soldiers of both sexes were among the dead and the wounded, she said.