Three of the 103 victims participating in the Thomas Lubanga trial will this week give evidence in what is the first opportunity for victims to testify in this capacity at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The victims have to date played a unique role in the trial. Their legal representatives always attend court hearings and have up to now mainly been engaged in questioning some of the witnesses called by the prosecution. Additionally, mid last year they applied – unsuccessfully – for the court to bring additional charges of sexual crimes and inhumane treatment against Lubanga, which was unheard of international tribunals. Lubanga is accused of enlisting, conscripting and child soldiers under 15 years.
In an interview with the Lubanga Trial website, Luc Walleyn, one of the legal representatives of the victims, explained the importance of victims taking part in the trial: “In practice you can see clearly that the questioning of the Prosecutor is not the same as the representatives of victims,” he said.
He said while the Prosecutor is normally very interested in the chain of command in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) – the group Lubanga is alleged to have led – as well as the individual responsibility of the accused, victim’s legal counsels are more interested in showing what the reality on the ground was for children who took part in the armed conflict. Victims’ lawyers argue that once the judges understand the circumstances of how the children joined armed conflict, and the suffering they underwent, these elements can then be taken into account if the accused is convicted and reparations are determined for the victims.
Besides, Walleyn added, “it is important for the communities who are following the trial to hear the voices of those victims and to understand that these young people who were in that group are not to be considered as criminals but as victims.”
In the interview to be published on the Lubangatrial.org website this week, Walleyn talks about the opportunity missed by not charging Lubanga with sexual crimes, provides some thoughts on the issue of reparations for victims, and explains why the victims’ legal representatives are not happy with Lubanga’s defense team.
Last Friday, the defense team was given the details of the three participating victims who will testify this week. But the court granted a request by the victims’ counsels for information such as their telephone numbers and current residences not to be disclosed.