Thomas Lubanga’s defense case opened this week with his lawyers declaring that prosecution witnesses were coached, and that the witnesses who claimed to have been child soldiers never were.
Catherine Mabille, the lead defense counsel, said on Wednesday that they would ask judges to discontinue the case after producing16 witnesses who will, among others, show that all the witnesses presented by the prosecution as former child soldiers were bogus.
She said the witnesses, and in some cases their parents, deliberately lied to court, and that they were helped by agents of the Office of The Prosecutor to fabricate their testimony.
“The defense intend to show that six of them were never child soldiers, the seventh lied about his age and the conditions in which he enrolled, and the eighth never belonged to the UPC (Union of Congolese Patriots),” she said.
Lubanga, whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleges was the founder of UPC, is accused of enlisting, conscripting and using child soldiers in armed conflict during 2002 and 2003. The ICC also charges that Lubanga was the commander-in-chief of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), which used child soldiers in inter-ethnic fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The defense that it would not be possible to ensure a fair trial when a significant part of the trial was based on fabricated evidence. “How can judges carry out their roles, that is to say seeking out and establishing the truth, if the testimony that they have heard are the result of concerted efforts to deceive them?” Mabille asked.
The first witness to appear for the defence told court that although his son never served in any military group, an organization which had promised to give the boy a job later started passing him off as a former child soldier.
The unnamed organization also duped the child’s mother and uncle into believing it would offer a scholarship to the boy, said the witness, adding that this organization apparently had offices in the north-eastern Congolese town of Beni and in the capital Kinshasa.
It was not clear from the testimony – most of which was given in closed session – whether the son of the first defence witness had appeared as a prosecution witness and claimed to have served as a child soldier.
Earlier on Wednesday, when the witness first testified, he said throughout 2002 and 2003, he was at home with his son and that at no time did the boy serve in any military group.
He said that in 2007 his rebellious son ran away from his home and started staying with an aunt. It was while he was there that he met the staff of the unnamed organization, who were later to claim that he had been a child soldier.
When prosecutor Manor Sachdeva asked the witness the name of that organization, defence counsel Marc Desalliers protested.
“The witness has just said he did not know the name of the organization and my learned colleague asked him immediately afterwards whether he knew the name of the organization. Once more I object to the fact that he is ignoring the answers given by the witness.”
Judge Adrian Fulford reminded then reminded the prosecutor that the witness had already answered that he knew neither the name of the organisation nor of the officials who took in his son.
Desalliers had earlier made a similar objection when Sachdeva repeatedly asked the witness whether he had indeed not seen his son since the boy left home in 2007.
To protect his identity, the witness testified out of public view and his voice was distorted in court transmissions of his testimony. Defense lawyers said at the start of the testimony that while they had earlier expected the witness to testify in public, he had later indicated that he wanted to have protective measures for security reasons. This witness will continue giving evidence on Monday next week.
The defense has said its evidence will show that prosecution witnesses were encouraged to lie on a number of very specific points, in particular their name, the name of their parents, and the schools they attended.
“This was done so that it would be more difficult to verify the information relating to them. They were encouraged to lie about their age and the fact that they allegedly belonged to an armed group so as to qualify for the charges against Mr Lubanga,” Mabille said.
Mabille said the defense did not intend to show that there were no minors amongst the ranks of the FPLC. But they would show that Lubanga did not take part in recruiting child soldiers; instead, he worked amidst great difficulties to demobilize the child fighters who were in FPLC.
“The defense witnesses will tender evidence to the effect that Thomas Lubanga the political leader played no active role in the creation of the UPC military forces and in no way did he take part deliberately in a common plan to recruit minors,” Mabille said.