A former child soldier on Thursday recalled how he was abducted by militiamen belonging to the group which Thomas Lubanga allegedly led, got tortured at a training camp, and watched his friends get killed in battle “like flies”.
The former child soldier was the second participating victim to give evidence at the Lubanga trial. He said Lubanga was the head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) fighters, recalled how UPC commanders sexually violated girl soldiers of about 13 or 14 years, and described how fighters who fled the frontline were executed once captured.
Recalling a battle he took part in early in 2003 as a UPC fighter, he said: “That day people were killed. I saw people dying beside me. They were like flies. Even the friends we were with they were dead. The commanders were dying too. It was very terrible.” This battle took place at Bogoro in Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and pitted the UPC against their enemies, he said.
Asked by his counsel Joseph Keta who UPC’s enemies were, he said it said members of the Lendu and Ngiti ethnic groups and the Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri (FPRI) militia group. Lubanga, who faces war crimes relating to the conscription, enlisting and use of child soldiers, is an ethnic Hema whose group is accused of having directed its wrath against the Lendu and Ngiti ethnic group.
Two other former Congolese militia leaders – Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui – have been charged at the International Criminal Court (ICC) with war crimes and crimes against humanity over their alleged role in planning an attack on Bogoro during February 2003. They fought against Lubanga’s group. The ICC says up to 200 civilians were killed in the attack on Bogoro.
In court at The Hague on Thursday, the former child soldier told court that UPC fighters who escaped from the battlefront were executed once captured. They would be tied against a tree, their faces blindfolded, then soldiers standing 15 or 20 meters away would shoot the offender until they were sure he was dead.
Flogging was rampant in the camps, he said. Many times they were flogged for flouting the camp rules; other times they were flogged for no reason.
He told the court that he was abducted by UPC militiamen, held captive at a prison run by the group, and then conscripted into the militia group. The former child soldier is now in school, and when his counsel Keta asked him what his hopes for the future were, he replied that he wished to stay in school.
Prosecutor Nicole Samson asked the witness what he did when UPC militiamen were abducting him. “I prayed to them to let me go,” he replied. “They threatened to shoot me, so I became submissive and I went with them.”