A witness who said he fought with the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) today started giving evidence in the trial of Thomas Lubanga at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC alleges that Lubanga headed the UPC, a group that used child soldiers in inter-ethnic conflict during 2002 and 2003.
The witness, the sixth called by the defense, mostly testified in closed session and had protective measures such as face and voice distortion to protect his identity. During the few moments when his testimony was in public session, he was questioned by defense counsel Jean-Marie Biju-Duval about the time he spent with UPC, and also about his brother.
It was not possible to know how the brother to the witness was connected to the trial, or to the UPC. Equally, from the small bits of evidence given by the witness in open session, it was not possible to get an idea of what the gist of his testimony was.
The witness said he was in the UPC until 2003. He deserted the group when the Ugandan army clashed with UPC’s fighters in the town of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He went to the town of Mongwalu and joined the Peoples’ Armed Forces of Congo (FAPC), a militia group in that area.
The witness said he served with the FAPC for a year. Biju-Duval asked the witness whether during his time with FAPC he maintained contact with his mother, brothers and sisters. The witness responded that he had indeed maintained contact with them. Biju-Duval then asked that court goes into closed session for the witness to provide details about those contacts.
Earlier, the witness said his brother about whom he was questioned at length at one time fled to Uganda, but then he returned to Congo and stayed in Kasenyi and in Bunia. He said his brother went back to school when he returned to Congo.
“We did not meet all the time but he would come to my home to fetch some money in order to pay for his school fees,” the witness said of his brother.
The witness is expected to continue giving evidence tomorrow, and then the seventh defense witness will appear. Lubanga’s defense team has indicated that its first 16 witnesses will show that intermediaries of the ICC concocted evidence and coached prosecution witnesses .
Meanwhile, judges today granted the prosecution’s request to meet a defense witness who is expected to begin testifying this Friday. The meeting is anticipated to take place a day before the witness takes the witness stand.
The defense had opposed the application, arguing that the meeting would present an additional stress to the witness on the eve of his giving testimony in court. But the prosecution’s Nicole Samson said they wished to ask the witness about some additional aspects of his likely testimony which the defense had only recently provided to the prosecution.
While granting the prosecution’s application, Judge Adrian Fulford warned prosecutors against making similar applications when witnesses are about to appear in court.
“We will look at each of them very carefully on their merits and it will need new information of the kind indicated for us to give serious consideration to an application of this kind because it could be very stressful for the witness,” said the judge.