|Thomas Lubanga’s defense told court this week that two of its witnesses could not travel to The Hague to give evidence because their identities had been stolen by other people who are participating in the trial.As a result, these two defense witnesses had to give testimony via video link from Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They testified this week and last week.
Both of them stated that they were former fighters in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the group which prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) allege was led by Mr. Lubanga.
After the witnesses completed giving their testimony, prosecutors told court that they wanted to take fingerprints of these witnesses so as to ascertain their identities.
Prosecuting attorney Nicole Samson said on Wednesday that they were considering asking the Congolese government to carry out the fingerprinting under supervision of court officials.
But defense attorney Marc Desalliers said they were opposed to the plan for Congolese authorities to do the fingerprinting.
“The reason for these witnesses having testified via video link was because it was somewhat sensitive. Passports [in their names] had been issued to other individuals,” he said. It was therefore not possible to get for them passports to enable their travel to The Hague to give evidence.
Presiding judge Adrian Fulford asked the defense whether fingerprinting witnesses would necessarily reveal that they had been involved in getting a false passport from the Congo government.
“The sensitive aspect is related to determination of the identity of a person, and the fact of doing that with Congolese authorities will draw attention to that individual,” Desalliers responded.
Judge Fulford ruled that it would be safer if the fingerprinting were conducted by the court without involving Congolese officials.
Meanwhile, Judge Fulford today stated that the two victims alleged by the defense to be using false identities were Witness 225 and Witness 229 who testified last January.
In his testimony, Witness 225, who described himself as a former child soldier, recalled how he was abducted by militiamen belonging to the UPC, got tortured at a training camp, and watched his friends get killed in battle “like flies”.
For his part, Witness 229 described torture at a UPC camp, and claimed commanders ordered him to find for them young beautiful girls, and to take militiamen to the homes of rich people in his village, which they then robbed.
Last week, one of the two defense witnesses who were unable to travel to The Hague told court that his name was Dieudonné Tonyfwa Urochi. He recounted how he was abducted by UPC soldiers and conscripted into the group where he went on to serve as a child soldier.
And then on Wednesday this week, a witness who gave his name as Bertin Ukunya Nyona claimed to be the father of Mr. Urochi after he was shown a picture of the defense witness who testified last week. Mr. Nyona went on to explain the meaning of his son’s names and why he gave him those names.
Mr. Nyona recounted how he and his son met Dieudonné Mbuna, the defense investigator in the DRC.
“He told me there was another Tonyfwa Urochi here [in The Hague] but there was another Tonyfwa Urochi living with me at home,” Mr. Nyona said. He said this was the first time he heard that the identity of his son had been usurped by some individual.
Mr Nyona and Mr Urochi said the person who stole the identity of the two defense witnesses was a former schoolmaster at the school attended by the two former child soldiers.
According to the defense, the identities of their two witnesses who have testified over the last week were stolen by their former headmaster who helped them to fill in application forms for participation as victims in the trial of Mr. Lubanga. The unnamed headmaster was referred to in court as ‘Mr. P’.
The defense contends that although their applications were accepted by the ICC, different individuals are now participating as victims in the trial, but using the names of these two defense witnesses.
Joseph Keta, the lawyer for the victim in question, on Thursday showed Mr. Nyona a picture and posed the question:
“If I said to you that this is Dieudonné Tonyfwa Urochi, what would be your reaction?” asked Mr. Keta.
“It’s false,” replied the witness.
Asked by Mr. Keta whether he had any documents to show that he was the father of a person with those names, the witness replied that he had some documents which could attest to that fact – but he had left them behind in the DRC.
Mr. Keta posed most of his questions in closed session because, he said, they related to protected individuals.
The current headmaster at the school attended by two defense witnesses whose identities were allegedly usurped today recounted how he gave school documents to an agent of Mr. Lubanga’s lawyers. Adel Adubango said Mr. Mbuna approached him last November and requested to access some school records.
Mr. Adubango said he had become the headmaster of the school in 2008. He is not the headmaster who is alleged to have been involved in the identity theft.
“So all the documents [you gave him] you had no part whatsoever in compiling the content?” asked prosecuting attorney Manoj Sachdeva.
“Yes,” replied Mr. Adubango.
“And you cannot verify the accuracy of this content?” added Mr. Sachdeva.
“I filed these documents as I found them in the office,” replied the witness. “And when Mr. Mbuna arrived we tried to gather these documents that could be of interest to him.”
The witness said that Mr. Mbuna took the documents to make photocopies, and returned them to the school the next day.
“He returned the documents and he handed me the originals. He asked me that I approve the photocopies, that I authenticate them with my signature and a stamp. I complied and I wrote that they were certified copies of the originals,” said Mr. Adubango.
Mr. Sachdeva asked the witness whether he could tell if the documents had been altered overnight while in Mr. Mbuna’s hands. The witness replied that he did not think the documents were altered given the brief period they were with Mr. Mbuna.
At the start of Friday’s proceedings, judges rejected a request by Mr. Keta that defense counsel should not question Mr. Adubango about certain issues related to ‘Mr. P’.
The trial continues on Tuesday.