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Lubanga Defense Raises Concerns Over Translation Errors

Thomas Lubanga’s lawyers have told judges that they need the transcripts of testimonies of some witnesses to be urgently reviewed after they found “extremely important discrepancies” in one of the transcripts they have just reviewed.

Catherine Mabille, the lead defense counsel, today told court that the defense needs the transcripts to be reviewed urgently because it would use them in an application to bring the proceedings to a halt, which it intends to file after calling its next few witnesses.

“The chamber knows that we have two or three witnesses to hear then we intend to file a request, and in order to do that we intend to revise all the Swahili speaking testimony,” she said.

Ms. Mabille told court that in their review of the testimony of Witness 24, they found a number of problems, including long passages that had not been translated. “If just listening to the tapes to point out the most critical passages, this alone would require a lot of work and time. Just listening to witness 24 took 50 hours. We could do this but we have to do this with our client, we have to take the tapes to the prison and walk through them with the accused,” she said.

Presiding judge Adrian Fulford said today that the chamber would tomorrow advise on the defense request for a speedy review of the testimony of certain witnesses.

The defense is planning to ask judges to halt proceedings against Mr. Lubanga on the grounds that there was abuse of process in putting together witnesses and evidence against him.  According to the defense, the alleged abuse of process was the handiwork of intermediaries of International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecution investigators, and involved bribing and coaching witnesses as well as falsification of identities. The defense has so far called 16 witnesses to testify to the alleged corruption of evidence against Mr. Lubanga by the intermediaries.

Mr. Lubanga is on trial at the ICC over the recruitment, conscription and use of child soldiers in armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during 2002 and 2003. He is alleged by ICC prosecutors to have been the head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and its armed wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).

On March 6, 2010, Mr. Lubanga’s lawyers reported that there were serious errors in court reporting and translations, which they said jeopardized the quality of testimonies made in court. Judges called an early adjournment to that day’s hearings in light of the defense complaints.

Meanwhile, today’s proceedings were adjourned early after the defense said their next witness had just arrived in The Hague and was not ready to start giving evidence. The defense said that they had anticipated that witnesses would be on the stand longer than they actually were since proceedings restarted last week.  The witness who finished giving evidence today was a mother who, according to Judge Fulford, was questioned about the dates of birth of her children. She gave all her evidence in closed session.

Judge Fulford said the defense and the Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) of the court must work to ensure that there were witnesses waiting to give evidence. “Given the problems we’re experiencing having to share two courtrooms between three trials, it is highly undesirable that we should lose in effect two thirds of time we have been allocated today. The VWU and the defense should do everything they can to ensure that this situation does not happen again,” said the judge.

Besides Mr. Lubanga, two other former Congolese leaders – Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui – are on trial at ICC. The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is trying former Liberian president Charles Taylor, is currently using ICC courtrooms.

Defense witness 34 is expected to start giving his evidence tomorrow.