Judges have ruled that three victims participating in the trial of Thomas Lubanga can testify about their experiences.
The victims are not considered witnesses for either the prosecution or the defense, but are instead participants in the trial. A total of 99 victims are taking part in the proceedings, and seven lawyers represent them.
On April 2, victims’ lawyers requested that three victims be allowed to appear in person to speak about child recruitment in an area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that has not been discussed in witness testimony. The name of the area has not been disclosed to the public.
Having the victims testify in person would allow the defense to question them, and also “provide the chamber with a better appreciation of the importance of victims and assist the court in its dealings with them,” the lawyers wrote.
Both the prosecution and the defense strongly objected to the request.
On May 22, prosecutors wrote that “victims do not have an unfettered right to lead evidence on the guilt or innocence of the accused.” That is “the prosecution’s function,” they said.
Two of the victims, prosecutors continued, were former child soldiers who could potentially give very similar evidence to that presented during the prosecution’s case.
The victims’ request, they said, should be dismissed unless their lawyers could provide information on what exactly the testimony would entail, and if it would be considered evidence or simply the victims’ “views and concerns.”
Lubanga’s lawyers expressed concern about how the victims’ testimony would impact “the rights of the accused and a fair and impartial trial.”
They also wrote that if the victims were allowed to testify, they should provide a signed “detailed written statement” which discloses their identity at least three months prior to their court appearance.
In a July 9 decision, judges ruled that the three could testify about a “relevant” area of the DRC which falls “potentially under the alleged control or influence of the accused during the timeframe of the charges.”
In response to the prosecution’s concerns regarding duplicate evidence, the judges contend that “each former child soldier is unique – none of their personal histories are the same.” They reiterated that the use of child soldiers in this specific region of the DRC has not been addressed so far.
“In all the circumstances, these applicants have each demonstrated that the evidence they seek to present affects their personal interests and, in each instance, it is directly related to the charges brought against the accused,” the judges wrote. “Therefore, they may give evidence.”
By August 10, each victim needs to provide a “comprehensive summary” of his or her evidence to the judges, registry, prosecution and defense.
One of the victims, wrote the judges, has agreed to reveal his identity to the judges, prosecution and defense, but would like to remain anonymous to the public. The other two victims have yet to make proposals to the Victims and Witnesses Unit on the matter, but need to do so by August 10.
The victims will testify prior to the start of the defense case in October, but a date has not yet been set.