In a week where there was little activity in open session of the war crimes trial of former Congolese leader Thomas Lubanga, the defense called their eleventh and twelfth witnesses, but the gist of their testimonies remained unknown as they gave most of their evidence in camera. Both had protective measures such as face and voice distortion to protect their identities.
The witness who appeared on Wednesday gave his evidence behind closed doors. The previous witness, referred to in court as ‘Witness 23’, had given some testimony in open session and told court that he lied to the country’s demobilization authorities that he had served as a soldier. But because this witness gave most of his evidence in closed session, it was not possible to know what bearing this testimony had on the trial.
The week also saw the cancellation of a hearing which had been scheduled for Thursday, although the court did not explain the reasons for the cancellation.
On Tuesday, the eleventh defense witness testified. He said that in 2005, he assumed the identity of his friend, who was unable to continue with a training program that was being offered by the Congolese National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of ex-combatants (CONADER).
“On the third day [of the training for ex-combatants], I went to continue with the rest of the program since he was absent. He had another very important business to take care of and that is why he requested me to go and continue with the program,” explained ‘Witness 23’.
“On the third day you participated in classes, then on the fourth day you got your photo identity card?” asked prosecuting lawyer Manoj Sachdeva.
The witness replied: “Yes, on the third day we attended the last classes and on the fourth day we came to withdraw the card as well as the sums of money that were paid to us. Then we received all the items which I mentioned.”
‘Witness 23’ stated that he received the demobilization card on April 1, 2005.
“You did not tell the truth to CONADER, did you?” Mr. Sachdeva asked the witness.
The witness replied that after the war in Ituri province of Congo, there was a lot of suffering and many people did not have food. “And so if the opportunity presented itself, well, I was told that I could go there, show the card and get stuff. So I went there… If I had resources at the time, if I had means to live on, I wouldn’t have done that.”
‘Witness 23’ was questioned about his brother and his friend whose identity he allegedly assumed when he presented himself to the demobilization office. It was not possible to establish whether the two had served in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the group which prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) allege was led by Mr. Lubanga.
Mr. Lubanga is on trial over the use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during 2002 and 2003.
‘Witness 23’ was also questioned about funding which he and other demobilized fighters sought from a donor agency for their motorcycle taxi project. The witness said the funds meant for their project were misappropriated, but he did not mention in public session who misappropriated the money.
Although he had earlier indicated that he would testify without protective measures, ‘Witness 23’ made a last minute request for protection, according to presiding judge Adrian Fulford.
The judge said the witness had explained that he needed protective measures to cushion him against possible reprisals which could arise if members of his community learned that he had testified at the trial.
Because of the still-volatile situation in Ituri province of the DRC, where the UPC operated from, most of the prosecution and defense witnesses have testified with protective measures.
On Wednesday, when a new defense witness was introduced, defense lawyer Caroline Buteau declared that he would give all his evidence behind closed doors.
“In view of the protective measures that have been requested by the witness and in view of the contents of his testimony, the whole of the examination-in-chief will be in private session,” Ms. Buteau said.
Although it has been common for both prosecution and defense witnesses to give evidence in private session, announcing that a witness would provide all their major evidence in camera has been rare.
In the portions of their evidence which has been heard in open session, many of the defense witnesses have alleged that intermediaries of the ICC’s prosecution investigators bribed and coached some of the people who were later to testify as prosecution witnesses.
Catherine Mabille, the lead defense attorney, said at the start of the defense case that they would introduce 16 witnesses and then ask judges to consider throwing out the case on the basis of abuse of process. The prosecution contests the defense’s claims that there was any abuse of process.
The trial is set to resume next Tuesday, with Mr. Lubanga’s defense calling their thirteenth witness. The defense case started on January 27, 2010, one year after the opening of the prosecution’s case.