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Witness Says Court Officials Ignored Him

A witness today told the Thomas Lubanga trial that some officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC) repeatedly ignored him when he sought means of confessing that he had told lies to the court prosecution’s investigators.

‘Witness 15’, as he was referred to in court, was originally a prosecution witness. But when he testified briefly in June 2009, he stated that he had told lies to investigators from the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP).

The witness has been called back by the court to testify afresh, and has for the last two days told judges how an intermediary of the OTP’s investigators concocted the lies which he says he gave in his statement of 2005.

The witness said that after he gave his statement to investigators, court officials told him that they would relocate him to an unnamed country. The witness said he was not happy about relocation to that country, so he requested that court officials provide him with a lawyer.

“When I said I didn’t want to go to the place they wanted to relocate me to, they tried to harass me. They used language which was unacceptable,” he said during questioning by defense counsel Marc Desalliers.

‘Witness 15’ said that when he arrived in The Hague – he did not say when this was – court officials advised him to discuss with the investigator who had taken his statement in Kampala, Uganda. They wanted the discussion to be concluded over the phone but he preferred a face-to-face meeting, he said.

“I told the investigator that I needed a lawyer,” the witness recounted, although he did not say whether this was in a face-to-face meeting. The investigator reportedly told him he was not a suspect so he did not need a lawyer. ‘Witness 15’ said he found himself in a very difficult situation. “I felt myself in a situation of insecurity, I could not say anything.”

The witness said that in 2008, he again told court officials that he needed a lawyer. He said the head of the Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) of the ICC told him not to take a lawyer from outside those provided by the court. Describing the response from the VWU official as “insolent”, the witness stated that the official advised him to use his own resources if he wanted to get his own lawyer.

According to his testimony, when ‘Witness 15’ arrived at The Hague last year, he again asked to get a lawyer. ‘Witness 15’ said that he told court officials that he did not want to give evidence, but they insisted that he takes the witness stand.

The testimony by ‘Witness 15’ has echoed that given by several defense witnesses incriminating intermediaries in concocting evidence against Mr. Lubanga, who faces charges of using child soldiers in armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to prosecutors, in his 2005 statement to OTP investigators, ‘Witness 15’ claimed that there were children, some as young as 12, in the military training camp run by the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) at Mandro and at the UPC headquarters in Bunia town.

He also reportedly claimed that during the time he was with the UPC, he often saw the top military men in the UPC’s armed militia routinely report to Mr. Lubanga at the UPC headquarters. The ICC alleges that Mr. Lubanga was the head of UPC and its armed wing.

In his testimony this week, he said all those claims were false and were the fabrications of an intermediary of the OTP’s prosecutors.

On Wednesday, the prosecution’s Nicole Samson asked the witness why, from October 2005 to June 2009, he did not tell anyone from the OTP or the court’s witness protection service that he had lied in his statement to the investigators.

The witness replied: “I requested for the services of a lawyer [in 2006] because I was giving certain explanations and they were not being taken. I therefore wanted to be protected personally. I did not want to find myself in a situation of difficulty.”

He said he feared ending up in prison that is why he tried to engage a lawyer so that he would be able to confess to the lies he had told.

‘Witness 15’ will continue his evidence on Monday.