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Lubanga Trial To Resume This Week

After a hiatus of more than five months, the trial of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga will resume this Thursday January 7, 2010, with two expert witnesses expected to be the first to testify.

However, the highlight of this leg of the trial will be Lubanga’s defense case, which is expected to kick off in the second half of January.

Lubanga is accused of enlisting and conscripting child soldiers and using them to fight for the Congolese militia group Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) during 2002 and 2003.

Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said on December 9 2009 that once the trial resumed, two experts called by the Chamber would give evidence, then three participating victims would testify. The defense case would then start.

The legal representatives of the victims have proposed that there should be a psychologist to conduct an assessment of the victims as they arrive in The Hague. Joseph Keta, one of the victims’ legal representatives, told court on December 9, 2009 that two of the victims who would testify were children.

Keta also requested that the two children should have copies of their witness statements with them as they give testimony. The defence opposed this, as well as indications by Keita that the three witnesses would be housed together while in The Hague.

The court ruled that the witnesses should travel separately and be accommodated separately in The Hague, but deferred ruling on the two child witnesses having the transcripts of their interviews as they testified.

Judge Fulford said, however, that having transcripts of the interviews with them while giving their evidence would to an extent “be a new departure in that if that’s happened it’s tended to be the exception rather than the rule”. But in terms of refreshing their memories before going to give evidence, “speaking for myself, it would seem to me that reading the interviews beforehand, much in the same way as witnesses have done, is likely to be unobjectionable.”

Proceedings in the Lubanga trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) started on January 26, 2009 and the prosecution rested its case on July 14. The case is the first to be tried at the ICC.

While the defense case had been expected to start last October, it was postponed while appeal judges decided whether it would be possible to add charges of sexual slavery and cruel and inhumane treatment to the case.

Earlier in May 2009, victims’ lawyers had argued that young girls were used as sex slaves in Lubanga’s militia, and that sending children into combat constituted cruel and inhumane treatment.

On July 14, trial judges ruled that it was possible to add new charges, provided they were based on existing evidence or on facts that had emerged during the trial. Judge Fulford dissented from the majority opinion, which was appealed by both the prosecution and the defence.

However, on December 8, appeals judges ruled that charges of sexual slavery and cruel treatment did not have the possibility of being added to the case against Lubanga, paving the way for the resumption of the trial.

Fulford has also said that Witness 15, who confessed to have given a false statement to prosecutors, would be recalled by the prosecution at some stage during the course of the defence case.