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Two Former UPC Soldiers Testify, Victims’ Lawyer Questions Them

The Lubanga trial recommenced on Wednesday after a three week hiatus with the defense calling two witnesses, both of whom said they were former soldiers in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the group that prosecutors at the International Criminal Court allege was led by Thomas Lubanga.

According to the defense, the testimony of both witnesses was intended to discredit evidence given by one of three participating victims who testified last January. Among others, the witnesses would testify that the victim lied to the  court about his identity.

Dieudonné Tonyfwa Urochi, who told the court that he was born in 1988, and Jean Paul Bejijjo Chonga, who said that he was born in May 1987, gave their separate testimonies via video link from Bunia in eastern Congo . They testified with their faces visible on screens in court in The Hague, but some of their evidence was given in private session. It was therefore not possible to tell from evidence given in open court what they said about the participating victim who allegedly lied to court about his identity.

Joseph Keta, a lawyer for victims, questioned both witnesses at length about the educational institutions they attended and a person the two witnesses said they went to school with. This schoolmate is presumably the victim who gave testimony in January. The witnesses also talked about traveling to the Congolese capital Kinshasa together with this former schoolmate but did not say in open court what their mission to the capital was.

Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford pointed out at the recommencement of the trial that legal representatives for the victims had established that they had a personal interest in the two defense witnesses and had been granted permission to question them. The defense in February this year contested the right of legal representatives to question defense witnesses, but their application was rejected by judges.

Prosecuting attorneys Olivia Struyven and Nicole Samson asked the duo how they joined the UPC and how they became witnesses for Mr. Lubanga. On Thursday, Ms. Samson questioned Mr. Urochi about a person named Dieudonné, a Congo-based investigator for Mr. Lubanga defense. The witness said he first met Dieudonné earlier this year and subsequently met him together with some of Mr. Lubanga’s lawyers. Mr. Urochi told court that during their first meeting, he did told Dieudonné that he was not a former UPC child soldier.

 “You described to court that you had done military service in UPC. Why did you tell Dieudonné that you had not done military service in UPC?” asked Ms. Samson.

 “I refused to tell him the truth and that is because I didn’t know why he was asking me that question,” responded the witness.

In subsequent meetings Mr. Urochi attended with Mr. Lubanga’s attorneys and Dieudonné, he told them that he had indeed served in the UPC.

Mr. Lubanga is on trial over the alleged recruitment, conscription, and use of children under the age of 15 years in armed conflict during 2002 and 2003. He has denied the charges.

Ms. Samson asked Mr. Urochi whether he had disclosed in that meeting that he had applied to participate as a victim in Mr. Lubanga’s trial. “Did you ever tell Dieudonné or anyone else that you had filled a victim application form?” asked Ms. Samson.

Mr. Urochi responded that he had showed copies of the application to Dieudonné and the attorneys. But he said he did not tell them that he had been replaced as a victim. It was not disclosed in open court how Mr. Urochi lost his status as a victim participating in the trial and instead turned into a defense witness.

With regard to how they joined the UPC, Mr. Urochi said he was kidnapped by UPC soldiers and conscripted into the militia. But Mr. Chonga said he dropped out of school in 2001 and joined the group in which his uncle held a senior rank.

“I went to see my paternal uncle and that is when I went to do my military service. I really enjoyed military service because in our village the soldiers bothered us a lot, hassled us a lot,” said Mr. Chonga. He added, “I had gone to his house because of the threats from soldiers, and I immediately joined the UPC.”

Ms. Struyven asked Mr. Chonga which soldiers were harassing people. He replied that soldiers of the UPC were involved in raping young girls and women, as well as pillaging. Soldiers of the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) – a local rival to the UPC – killed and beat up civilians, he said.

The trial continues on Monday, with Mr. Chonga undergoing more cross-examination.