Lawyers for victims participating in the war crimes trial of former Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga have today questioned two defense witnesses who testified via video link from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
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 court about his identity.
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.
The two witnesses told court during their separate testimonies that they served in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the group which prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleged was led by Mr. Lubanga. Mr. Dieudonné Tonyfwa Urochi, who testified first, said he was born in 1988, meaning that he was aged 14 at the time he served in the UPC. For his part, Jean Claude Chonga told court that he was born in May 1987, which meant he was about 14 in 2001 when he joined the UPC.
Under cross-examination by prosecuting attorney Olivia Struyven, Mr. Chonga today 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.” He added: “I had gone to his house because of the threats from soldiers, and I immediately joined 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.
Joseph Keta, a lawyer for victims, questioned both witnesses at length about the education institutions they attended, as well as a person both witnesses said they went to school with. This schoolmate is presumably the victim who gave testimony in January this year. 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.
Although they gave their testimony from Bunia in eastern Congo, both Mr. Urochi and Mr. Chonga testified with their faces visible on screens in the court at The Hague. Beside them in Congo sat a court official who helped the witnesses. Some of their evidence was given in private session.
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.
When the prosecutor asked the witness whether he knew of incidences when UPC soldiers raped young girls, the witness said he could indicate one he knew of. Judge Fulford then intervened, wondering what connection this information had to the charges Mr. Lubanga faced.
Ms. Struyven replied that this information collaborated evidence given by a former witness, ‘Witness 270’, and highlighted the day-to-day lives of child soldiers in the UPC. Judge Fulford disagreed, stating that the prosecution had chosen not to include in the charges against Mr. Lubanga those that accuse him of criminal responsibility for the alleged rape of young women by UPC soldiers. He asked the prosecutor to move away from that subject.
The prosecuting attorney then asked the witness the ages of the children in the UPC camp he attended. “Some children were younger than me,” replied Mr. Chonga.
“Were there boys and girls?” asked Ms. Struyven.
“It was the boys,” replied Mr. Chonga. “When the girls went for military service they were married directly. Only a minimal number finished the training.”
Mr. Chonga will continue giving evidence on Monday.