A former officer in the militia of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) testified this week that child soldiers were among the bodyguards of accused leader Thomas Lubanga.
Lubanga, the president of UPC, is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them in hostilities.
The witness, who said he was in charge of security for the UPC, testified mostly in closed session. Publicly, however, he said commanders of the various UPC brigades were responsible for the conscription, training, and arming of child soldiers.
“Each commander needs to have numerous troops… so their troops found a way of [getting] young people and providing them with appropriate [training and arms], and this was done at the level of brigades,” said the witness.
The witness said that UPC commanders, as well as Lubanga, used some child soldiers as guards, both at the UPC headquarters and for Lubanga’s personal guard. They wore uniforms and carried arms, he said.
When challenged about the use of child soldiers under cross-examination by defense lawyer Jean-Marie Biju-Duval, the witness asked to respond in closed proceedings, and the court complied.
Regarding the recruitment of child soldiers, the witness said that most UPC commanders did not take all the children because some “were too young and you could not allow them [to join the militia].”
Biju-Duval also objected to what he called “leading questions” by the prosecutor, Manoj Sachdeva, regarding the alleged presence of child soldiers among Lubanga’s bodyguards.
“I would like the questions [to be] less leading on this matter,” he protested. “This is particularly sensitive.”
Judge Adrian Fulford interjected, “Certainly that’s an area of great sensitivity for the defense. That question could be put more generally.” The judge then asked the prosecutor, “Please be more careful.”
The witness also discussed discipline in the UPC. “Within an army discipline is very important,” he said. “When there’s military training… you are taught about military life, there are certain domains relating to discipline that are taught to you.”
Punishments for errant UPC fighters included being whipped as they did push-ups or rolled on the ground, he said. Some were detained and others were made to cook for their colleagues for a week.
“Kongoto is a whip. Each instructor has one,” said the witness. “If you commit an error, any of the instructors can punish you.”
The witness said child soldiers in training did not make big mistakes, so their punishments were moderate.
Children in the training camps, regardless of gender, received the same training as adults, he said, which lasted two or three weeks.
When finished, all were given uniforms and arms, and were deployed to various UPC units. Child soldiers were given the same duties as adults, he said.
“If a kadogo (child soldier) finishes his training, he is deployed, he is given a weapon and obviously he is going to fight,” said the witness, testifying in Swahili.
This week the judges also agreed to make public the identity of five victims who are participating in the trial.
Judge Fulford said in the ruling that Lubanga was entitled to receive the names and dates of birth of the victims represented by Buyangandu and instructed that the identities be supplied to Lubanga’s defense by May 22.
“For the time being, disclosure should be made in this limited form as suggested by the (Victims Participation and Reparations Section),” said Judge Fulford. “If there is a suggestion that more complete disclosure should be made … then such applications should be made by way of filing so that the matter can be addressed formally.”
The issue of behavior in the public gallery arose early in the week when Judge Fulford admonished an individual for apparently pointing at Lubanga.
“This is a court of law, not a public spectacle or entertainment. Please don’t point at individuals in court, in particular at the accused who is entitled to his dignity,” said the judge.
“Don’t treat this as if it is a zoo where people inside are to be pointed at and laughed at as has happened in the last 5 or 10 minutes.”