Please find Katanga and Ngudjolo Chronicle #3, which was originally published on the Aegis Trust website. The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Expectations surrounding this trial are high. This is only the ICC’s second trial, and it is the second to come out of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Victims of serious crimes have been waiting for justice for more than six years. As happened during the first days of the trial of Thomas Lubanga, people expect powerful testimony to bring to life the atrocities committed in the DRC. However, on the third day of the proceedings, the trial seems still not to spring to life.
Furthermore, those most concerned about the trial, the people in Ituri, have not been able to follow a single word uttered in this Court as the broadcast was cut off during the Opening Statement on 24 November. Presiding Judge Cotte announces to the public that in the afternoon, the person responsible for this failure will come to give an explanation. “Closed session please, and the witness can come into the room,” says the Judge.
With his image and voice distorted, Witness 233 undertakes the solemn declaration to tell the truth. Just a couple of words are exchanged before the Prosecutor Eric Macdonald asks the Bench to conduct the first questions in private session: the man testifying is a protected witness. The silence lasts a long time, and it is almost fifteen minutes before the morning break by the time the audience can hear again. The witness is spelling some names. “I´d like to spell the hill, Lagura instead of Ragura,” he says. The Prosecutor shows a photograph. A building appears in the middle of a field. Several doors and a metal roof can be distinguished. “What is it?” asks Prosecutor MacDonald. “It is the Bogoro Institute, a military camp. It was occupied by the UPDF [the Ugandans, the witness clarified afterwards] and by the UPC later,” a place which, according to the witness, was mined. “Mines were placed there on 24 February 2003.” The day of the attack.
The first witness called by the Prosecution to give evidence is a man who was present when the crimes were committed. Prosecutor Macdonald continues to show the witness different pictures of the area. In order to do so, the Prosecution team has prepared a 360 degree image. While this high resolution photograph is rotated, Mr. MacDonald is asking the witness to describe what he sees on the screen. “That house was very well built, but after the war it was destroyed,” he explains. Witness 233 seems to know the place perfectly well: Bogoro, the crime scene.
“After the attack [on 24 February 2003] all schools were destroyed, except Bogoro Institute where the military camp was.” At the camp, between a hundred and two hundred UPC soldiers were stationed. “They were armed,” assures the witness. “And in case of any attack, what were the instructions given to the civilians?” asks the Prosecutor. “We were told that if the enemy was arriving, the population should rush into the camp. There was no other protection outside the camp,” says the witness.
Witness 233 tells the Court that after the attack on 24 February, nobody remained in Bogoro. Everybody fled; some sought refuge in Uganda, others in Bunia. “Everything was destroyed; only the walls were left,” he says.
Witness 233 was able to come back to Bogoro in 2005, but the war was still going on in the region and it was risky to stay. “The Governor of the region talked to the leader and suggested we leave.” They had to flee once again. The witness is asked to write down the name of the Governor. Constant spelling requests interrupt the testimony and slow down the morning hearing.
After the lunchtime recess an unusual participant takes the floor. At the request of the Defence of Mathieu Ngudjolo, the Head of the Public Information and Documentation Service of the Court (PIDS), Sonia Robla, gives a formal statement about the difficulties the Unit had in broadcasting the opening of the trial in Ituri on 24 November. Ms. Robla pleads technical problems for this absence of information. “The National Television of Congo had only one satellite to receive the signal. The night before the beginning of the trial, we were informed that this satellite was fully booked. We realised we had difficulties and we activated plan B. We informed our key actors in Ituri – community leaders, NGOs, journalists – about it and we promised to make all efforts to solve the problem,” says Ms. Robla. Plan B included the production of short summaries of the proceedings to be sent to the local radios and television in Ituri and to send a copy of the whole day to the National Television in DRC at the end of the day’s proceedings. “The material will be broadcast by the National Television tomorrow during the morning news, the most viewed,” assures Ms. Robla. This is not the first time the people in Ituri cannot follow a trial at the ICC. On 26 January, when the Lubanga trial started and the people gathered in Bunia to watch the opening, the ICC organisers had to suspend the broadcast due to security concerns.
Ms. Robla leaves the courtroom and the Prosecution asks the Chamber to resume the witness testimony tomorrow. Mr. MacDonald alleges that Witness 233 is tired. The witness has been asked about many details of different names and places, taxing his memory. But despite Witness 233’s fatigue, the Chamber rules that the hearing will continue.
“Without revealing the names of people you were with on the 24th of February 2003, what happened that day?” asks Prosecutor Eric MacDonald. The sound of gun fire started that day at five in the morning. “We heard bullets. I woke up. I went to the direction of the camp. I found the enemies there. When they saw me, they started shooting.” Witness 233 had to flee in a hurry. There was no time to take anything with him. Witness 233 hid in the bush with others, including a UPC soldier. “We had nothing to drink and eat. I said to myself that we are not going to survive in this state.”
“Who was that enemy?” asks Macdonald. “These people came from the Lendu and the Nigiti roads,” says the witness.
At one point in time, the witness tells how someone shouted to come out, that the enemy had gone. “I said to myself, it wasn´t true.” Those were words spoken in Swahili and Kihema, the language of the Hema group. Some people came out from the bush. They were hungry. Someone tried to reach his home to pick up some food. “I never saw him since then,” says the witness. “I heard gun fire and I understood this person was killed. Somebody in the bush told me he had found a body on the road.” The witness did not come out, remaining hidden until the afternoon.