The Thomas Lubanga trial today heard evidence from a defense witness who testified via video link from Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Before the start of her testimony, all of which was to be given in closed session, Judge Adrian Fulford advised that since the witness was vulnerable, questions should be put to her sensitively. “Counsel must put short questions in a way which must be understandable. The witness must not be upset,” said the judge.
According to a filing by the defense, the evidence by this witness, who was referred to as ‘Witness 14’, would relate to two prosecution witnesses. On March 5, 2010, while granting the defense application to hear her evidence using the remote facility, Judge Adrian Fulford noted that the defense had stated that evidence by ‘Witness 14´’ was important for them as she is allegedly the mother of a prosecution witness who stated in his testimony that he was sure his mother was dead.
The defense stated that ‘Witness 14’ would provide evidence that she was the mother of that prosecution witness, and that she and him had met after the end of the war in Ituri.
Judges Fulford, Elizabeth Odio Benito, and René Blattmann ruled on February 10, 2010 that the law allowed witnesses to testify electronically for various reasons. After consultations with the Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) of the court, the judges allowed the defense to use the remote facility, which they considered a reasonable alternative to protect the psychological well-being of the witness.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) charges that Mr. Lubanga enlisted and conscripted children under the age of 15 years and used them “to participate actively” in armed conflict. The alleged crimes were committed between September 2002 and August 2003 in Ituri.
In their application to have ‘Witness 14’ testify via video link, Mr. Lubanga’s defense stated that this witness had never used a toilet, a sink, or a telephone. Given the length of time she would need to spend, first, in the Congolese capital Kinshasa obtaining a passport and, thereafter, in the Netherlands, the defense suggested that this would be a traumatic experience for her, and that she would be completely helpless and at a loss in these unfamiliar environs.
Legal representatives for victims opposed the defense application, observing that it was not made on the basis that the witness was unable to travel to The Hague or that she had refused to testify in person, but that instead it was founded on what they referred to as her alleged vulnerability.
The legal representatives also noted that the application was not made by the VWU or by the witness, but by the defense. They argued that because Mr. Lubanga’s supporters are influential in Bunia, they might have contact with the witness and try to influence her evidence. The judges disagreed with the arguments of the legal representatives.
The hearing of the case continues on Wednesday.