The International Criminal Court, ICC, trial of Thomas Lubanga heard this week that young female recruits found it hard to reintegrate into society after leaving the Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC.
Most of the girls had been raped by commanders in Lubanga’s militia, often becoming pregnant.
“Girls are the most vulnerable persons amongst child soldiers,” said the protected witness, who worked in a reintegration center for former child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.
“Certain girls came back [from the militia] with babies,” he added.
The witness spoke in French with face and voice distortion. The majority of his testimony was held in private session.
Lubanga is charged with recruiting, conscripting, and using children under the age of 15 in the ethnic conflicts that raged in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, during 2002 and 2003.
In addition to rape and pregnancy, many of the girls tested positive for sexually transmitted infections, the witness said. As a result, the former girl soldiers were often stigmatised by their communities, and very few were able to return.
“The shame that came with all of that [and] the rejection by the community… tended to remind the girl of the situation she had gone through,” explained the witness
With no financial means, many of the girls turned to prostitution to survive. This, in turn, only left them more ostracised, he said.
In another development this week, a witness who admitted to providing false information to investigators requested that his new statement be kept confidential, even from Lubanga.
The witness, identified by the number 15, confessed to judges on June 19 that much of his original statement to prosecution investigators had been fabricated.
Judge Adrian Fulford ruled he should provide the court with a fresh, truthful statement – this time in the presence of his own lawyer and lawyers for Lubanga.
Though it remains unclear if or when Witness 15 will return to testify, his court appointed lawyer requested that the new statement be kept from Lubanga, citing security concerns.
That was unacceptable to the defence. “Confidentiality as regards the public, that is no problem,” said Catherine Mabille, Lubanga’s lead lawyer. “Confidentiality as regards the defense is impossible.”
Fulford responded that only exceptional circumstances would warrant complete confidentiality. He explained it was not “correct” for the judges to order that the statement be kept from the accused, especially since it was given in the presence of his lawyers.
The court would, however, “take all necessary steps” to protect the witness and his family, Fulford said.