Another former child soldier who is participating as a victim in the trial of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga today testified about his conscription into the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), and the roles he played as a member of the militia group.
He said UPC fighters abducted him while he was returning home from school, and took him to their training camp near the town of Bule in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Joseph Keta, the legal counsel for the victim, asked him how he knew the militia belonged to UPC, and he replied that it was because of the uniforms they wore.
The witness said he asked the militiamen where they were taking him, but instead of giving him an answer, they insisted that the witness go with them. “I was going from school, I haven’t reached home,” he recalled telling the armed UPC men. “They told me to continue with them.”
The witness who started his testimony today is the third participating victim to appear at the trial of Lubanga, who is charged with the war crimes of enlisting, conscripting and using child soldiers. According to the indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Lubanga was the leader of UPC, which used child soldiers in violent inter-ethnic conflicts during 2002 and 2003.
The witness said neither his abductors nor his trainers ever asked his age. He said the same punishments were meted out on recruits in UPC training camps regardless of their age or gender.
Prosecutor Olivia Struyven asked the witness what the ages of the trainees he found at the camp were. He responded that he could not tell their ages but some were his age, others older. The witness did not say in public session what age he was but described himself as having been a child soldier. Much of his testimony was in private session.
The witness told court that during an attack on the town of Bunia, he and some other boys worked as scouts and indicated the position of UPC’s enemies to the rest of the fighters. He said he was shot in the foot at the Bunia battle.
In another battle at Mogwalu, his function was to carry bags containing ammunition to the battlefront. He said some boys of his age carried guns to the Bunia and Mongwalu battles and took part in the fighting. He did not say whether he himself ever fired a gun while he was with the UPC.
He said at the training camps they were taught how to assemble and dismantle sub-machine guns, and those who failed exercises were whipped. Those who did not obey commanders’ orders were also whipped.
Earlier in the day, another former child soldier had concluded his testimony. The two former child soldiers and a former schoolmaster were the three participating victims lined up to testify before the start of the defense case.
All three participating victims have said Lubanga was the head of the UPC, and talked about the use of child soldiers by UPC. They have also talked about the inhumane treatment of recruits, including girls, in UPC training camps.