The first participating victim to take the witness stand in the trial of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga told the court on Tuesday that the reason he was testifying was to inform the world about the crimes committed against his people by a militia group Lubanga is alleged to have led, and to ask for reparations for his village.
Joseph Keta, the legal counsel for the victim, asked him why he chose to testify despite the risks involved in such a move. The witness said he considered it an opportunity to tell the international court about the grave offences committed in his village in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo during 2003, as militia of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) fought against the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) group. The witness, who said he was a schoolmaster at the time, had his face and voice distorted in transmissions of court proceedings so as to protect his identity.
He said that although UPC (which Lubanga allegedly led) and FNI militia committed several crimes in his village, the area had become a “forgotten area” that never was the subject of serious investigations by the international court. Hence, appearing before the Lubanga trial “was an opportunity for us to be able to [tell] the world what happened … and ask for reparations if possible.”
The witness added that in his opinion, the charges which Lubanga faces – enlisting, conscripting, and using child soldiers – are “insignificant” compared to what the people of his village underwent. “There were murders, killings, sexual slavery, and sexual violence,” recounted the unnamed witness.
The testimony of this witness could be seen as significant in a number of ways: First, it was unique in that it was the first time that a victim was taking the witness stand at the ICC to tell their story. Secondly, it was significant in that the witness said he was partly at The Hague to ask for reparations for the wrongs suffered by his community and himself.
According to the Rome Statute which founded the ICC, it is possible to have individual as well as collective rehabilitative reparations, although some legal experts reckon that the court will have to make additional elaborations on the reparations issue beyond what is stipulated in the Rome Statute.
The witness told the court about the conscription of four of his pupils when UPC fighters stormed his school, and how he was beaten up by UPC militia when he tried to stop the conscription of the children. The rebels reportedly said they were abducting the children on the orders of their boss. The witness said this boss was Thomas Lubanga.
The witness said the beatings he received from the UPC militia have deformed his face, and that he suffers from mental problems as a result of those beatings. He lost the school too, he said.
Victims’ lawyers argue that once the judges understand the circumstances of how the children joined armed conflict, and the suffering they and other victims underwent, these elements can then be taken into account if the accused is convicted and reparations for victims are determined.
Lubanga’s lawyer Jean-Marie Biju-Duval and the prosecution’s Manoj Sachdeva questioned the witness, whose testimony continues.