An expert on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) told the court Wednesday that militias in the Ituri region often made contradictory statements about the use of child soldiers.
The militia leaders would both justify the use of child soldiers and then deny they did it, said Roberto Garreton, a Chilean lawyer and former United Nations special envoy on human rights in the DRC.
“[Militia leaders] would say, ‘We don’t use child soldiers, but they are useful because…’ — it was often a contradiction,” he explained.
Garreton appeared as an expert witness to provide context on the history of the DRC. Children were widely used as soldiers, he said, despite the condemnation of international human rights groups.
“Were people generally aware that use of child soldiers was internationally disapproved of?” asked prosecutor Nicole Samson.
“The general public did not have access to this information,” Garreton responded, because, “This war, like any war, was not conducted in a democracy.”
Only educated elites in Kinshasa, he said, would have access to international news and opinions that often condemned the use of child soldiers.
On one occasion when he was in the DRC during the early 2000s, he saw armed children at the Bunia airport and estimated them to be between nine and 12 years of age, he said.
A few days later, Garreton said he went to the home of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the leader of the Movement for Liberation in Congo (MLC) who is currently awaiting trial at the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Garreton told Bemba he had seen child soldiers. Bemba apparently replied that “here there are ethnicities where people are very small,” implying that the soldiers he saw were not actually children.
The witness will be questioned by Lubanga’s defense lawyers on Thursday morning.