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Witness: My Son Was Never A Child Soldier

The first witness to appear for the Thomas Lubanga defense told court today 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.

According to the testimony, the unnamed organization also duped the child’s mother and uncle into believing it would offer a scholarship to the boy. The organization apparently had offices in the north-eastern Congolese town of Beni and in the capital Kinshasa.

This testimony appears to support claims made by lead defense counsel Catherine Mabille at the opening of the defense case on Wednesday that many of the prosecution witnesses who claimed to have been child soldiers never were.

Mabille said the defense would 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 Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). It was not clear from the testimony – most of which was given in closed session – whether the son of the current witness has appeared as a prosecution witness.

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.

During today’s hearing, the witness explained how his unruly son who disappeared from home during 2007 ended up in the hands of people who were later to claim he had been a child soldier.

Earlier on Wednesday, when the witness first testified after the defense team’s opening statement, 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. To protect his identity, the witness testified out of public view and his voice was distorted in court transmissions of his testimony.

Today, he explained how his son and the son’s uncle traveled to the Beni offices of an organization which had promised to give the boy a job. He did not say in public session what year they travelled to Beni.

Prosecutor Manoj Sachdeva asked the witness whether the uncle never told him that officials of that organization were questioning his son about his time as a child soldier.

The witness then recounted what the uncle had told him about their visits to the organization’s offices:

“When they went to Beni the child was taken to another office and the child never told him about what was discussed in that office. When they returned from the second trip, when they reached Kisangani (a Congolese city), when they were abandoned in the hotel for a period of one week, they called the person who made the trip with them and the person told them that you can no longer return to Ituri because you will not be safe there.

“So he was surprised; they were surprised and later on they were then taken to Kinshasa. Once they reached Kinshasa, after a period of about three days, his uncle was invited to an office and there he met two individuals, a white man and an African. The individuals asked him whether he knew about the child having carried out military service. He was surprised and then he tried to return.

“He asked them whether he could return with the boy. And he was told that if he had to return he would return alone because the boy would not return with him. He called the boy and asked him to return with him and the boy said ‘I can not return, I still have things to do here’. That is the explanation he gave us.”

Sachdeva then asked the witness whether the uncle never told him the reason why they were meeting his son during the first trip to Beni.

“I said that when they were in Beni the secret was hidden from them. When they reached Kinshasa they did not go together to the office,” said the witness. “They went separately and when he put the question to the boy, the boy didn’t tell him the truth about what was done in the office.”

The witness also recalled how a stranger visited their home and convinced his wife to sign papers purportedly related to the education of their son who had disappeared from home.

“He started talking and he re-assured the wife and asked her not to worry because her child was alive and was studying well, et cetera. And he said there were people helping him to study and who wished to meet… .my wife so that they could see him,” said the witness. “Subsequently we prepared coffee, she prayed, and then … upon leaving he said to my wife that she had to come to town in order to meet these people in their office where they worked.”

Although he discouraged his wife from getting involved “in such matters that she had no control over”, she had insisted on visiting the offices of the organization.

“My wife arrived there and she was told that in order for the child to be able to study for free, the whites who are helping him would like her to sign a letter written in that place and that they would help the child to study and bring him back.

“When the mother heard that piece of information, she signed the paper. And then she came home and told me. And I said to her that there is a danger with regard to what you’ve signed. And a short time later we saw the consequences thereof. This is when the trouble begun and this continues.”

The witness will continue his testimony on Monday next week