Please find Katanga and Ngudjolo Chronicle #6, 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.
“Good morning, Mr. Witness,” greets Defence Counsel David Hooper. “Yesterday we were talking about these previous attacks that took place in Bogoro in 2001 and 2002.” Witness 233 resumes his testimony.
The witness previously told the Court that the Ugandan soldiers left Bogoro in August 2002. In the same period, the Governor of Ituri, Mulundo Lopondo, was chased out of Bunia by Thomas Lubanga’s UPC, the same militia group that had taken over the military camp in the Bogoro Institute. At the moment of the attack on the village of Bogoro on 24 February 2003, there was no Ugandan presence: “The last contingent had left just before the assault,” says the witness. The UPC was already there.
Mr. Hooper is holding a piece of paper. He asks to be put on the witness’s screen, while the court manager searches for the document’s reference. “This piece of evidence should not be public,” says counsel. What Mr. Hooper clasps in his hands is a copy of the witness´s notebook. “These are two pages of your diary showing the event of the three attacks [in Bogoro]; were there other attacks between 2001 and 2003?” asks Mr. Hooper. “I wrote down those attacks in which people were killed. What I wrote was large scale attacks perpetrated in Bogoro,” says Witness 233.
“At the time [from August 2002] the UPC was occupying the Bogoro Institute were there any other attacks? Did the UPC launch any attacks to the South, the region occupied by the Ngiti [ethnic group]?” asks Mr. Hooper. Witness 233 cannot recall any such events. “I don’t know anything about the Ngiti. Maybe the UPC soldiers who attacked the Ngiti were from Kasenyi, that is closer to where the Ngiti were,” said the witness. This assertion is denied by Defence Counsel.
Thomas Lubanga’s UPC soldiers were in Bogoro from August 2002 to February 2003. They numbered about two hundred in all. Before the attack, another hundred soldiers arrived at the camp for reinforcement. “There were also rotations,” says the witness. The UPC knew that an assault on the village was planned. “Before the attack, the message came from the soldiers and the women in the market,” says Witness 233. “The soldiers had Motorola radios and amongst them there were some who spoke the Ngiti language. They heard this message.”
Witness 233 knew the UPC Commander Floribert Kisembo personally. Kisembo had given him an important message: “There will be a fight here. You have to gather the mamas to evacuate the children.”
So if there were previous attacks in 2001 and 2002, and if insecurity reigned in Bogoro village, and if there was advanced notice of a possible attack, then, the Defence thinks, surely most people in Bogoro must have already fled when the attack on 24 February 2003 took place? “Yes, when we received the information about the attack, inhabitants in Bogoro fled towards Kasenyi and Bunia,” says Witness 233. The Defence responds: “in that case, how many people were in Bogoro that day?” Witness 233 is unable to provide this information.
Katanga’s defence team now raises a controversial issue: how far was the witness from the military camp at the Bogoro Institute when he first heard the sound of gun fire?
The battle started that day at four or five in the morning. When Witness 233 woke up to the sound of the bullets, he left. He had been instructed – in the case of an attack – to head in the direction of the military camp. But the camp was already surrounded by the enemy. “I went to the bush to find a hiding spot,” he says. According to the witness, the distance that separated him from the Bogoro Institute was approximately 1km. The defence argued that this seemed too far to witness what was going on in the Institute. For a moment, the witness seems to be confused and is uncertain as to the meaning of 1km. “Please, don´t be offended, but 1km, how many meters is that?” asks Presiding Judge Cotte. “A kilometer is the equivalent of one hundred meters. No, no, it is a thousand meters,” says Witness 233. The Chamber smiles in empathy.
There are other points on which both defence teams rely in their arguments – the question of the other actors involved in the attack on 24 February 2003, and the language spoken by those fighters during the battle.
“Did you see Bira people?” asks Mr. Hooper, referring to another ethnic group in Ituri. “Did you hear them speaking Bira?” Mr. Hooper reads out an excerpt of the statement Witness 233 gave to the OTP investigators in 2007: “In my view, the attackers were from Bira because they came from that direction. From the place I was hiding I heard them speaking Bira. Other survivors told me they had also seen Bira people.”
The defence team of Mathieu Ngudjolo wants to stress the question of language too. As stated by the witness in previous testimony, those who attacked Bogoro spoke Kilendu. That assertion may constitute evidence of the involvement of Lendu-Ngiti militias. “What people in Ituri speak Kilendu?” asks counsel. “Lendu North and the Gegere [a Hema subgroup],” answers the witness. “Do you know Mbisa or Ndo?” persists the Defence laywer, “they speak Kilendu as well.”