An investigator from the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP) at the International Criminal Court is due to give evidence in the war crimes trial of former Congolese leader Thomas Lubanga.
Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford disclosed on Wednesday that the unnamed investigator, as well as two intermediaries of the ICC’s prosecution investigators, would be testifying at the trial. The three witnesses will testify at the behest of Mr. Lubanga’s defense.
From this week’s hearing it emerged that besides one defense witness who is expected to testify next week, the trial will hear from the investigator and the two intermediaries, then the defense will ask judges to stop the proceedings on the grounds of abuse of process.
Mr. Lubanga stands accused of the war crimes of recruiting, conscripting, and using children under the age of 15 in armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Prosecutors claim that he committed the crimes during 2002 and 2003 while he headed the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).
Mr. Lubanga’s defense has accused intermediaries of the OTP’s investigators of bribing and coaching witnesses. The defense has also said all witnesses who claimed in court that they were former child soldiers in the UPC never actually served with the group.
Because of this alleged abuse of process in putting together evidence against Mr. Lubanga, the defense in January declared that it would ask judges to dismiss the case after producing witnesses who would give evidence on how evidence was allegedly forged.
Meanwhile, a former child soldier testifying at the trial on Tuesday said that he was reluctant to quit the UPC militia, even when a relief worker repeatedly promised him financial support if he abandoned military service.
‘Witness 297’, who testified over three days, stated that he did not want to quit the militia group because being a soldier offered him financial security.
He told court that UPC soldiers used to extort money from civilians at roadblocks. Sometimes the soldiers were sent by their commanders to get money from civilians, but they never handed over all the collections to their superiors. Other times the soldiers went out at night on their own initiative and hassled money out of civilians, he added.
‘Witness 297’ recalled that while serving as a UPC child soldier he had several meetings with the relief worker whose name was given as Mr. Mbusa. The witness stated that on many occasions he received soap and clothes from Mr. Mbusa and that during these meetings the relief worker advised him to quit military service.
He said that Mr. Mbusa was at the time working with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and that he used to distribute food and other relief items to displaced people in the war-torn Ituri province.
Some of the meetings the witness had with Mr. Mbusa were attended by investigators from the OTP, the witness said.
“They told me to withdraw from military service and they would help me if I ceased military service,” ‘Witness 297’ said of the discussions at the initial meetings with the ICC prosecution investigators. The witness said he was told that he would be offered financial assistance to enable him to train as a driver or a mechanic.
The witness recounted in court how he was grabbed from his school by soldiers led by Floribert Kisembo and forcefully conscripted into the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the UPC’s armed wing.
He stated that he went on to serve as a bodyguard to Mr. Kisembo, the man who, according to ICC prosecutors was the chief of staff of the group. Eventually, he deserted the militia.
‘Witness 297’ was on the list of prosecution witnesses, but due to ill health he did not get to testify last April as had been scheduled. The prosecution rested its case last July but recently expressed interest in hearing the incriminating evidence this witness has.
However, when ‘Witness 297’ appeared, prosecutors also questioned him about his assertions about the alleged role played by an intermediary of the OTP in corrupting evidence against Mr. Lubanga.
In fact, because of the claims made by ‘Witness 297’ about that intermediary, it is the defense that recently made the request to judges to invite this witness to testify. The defense claims that much of his testimony fits in with their own submissions on the alleged coaching of witnesses and falsification of evidence by the intermediaries.
On Monday, ‘Witness 297’stated that he underwent training at three UPC camps, was deployed and fought in many areas but he never saw Mr. Lubanga in any of those places.
On Wednesday, defense attorney Jean-Marie Biju-Duval pointed out to the witness that in the statement the witness gave to the OTP in 2007 he never mentioned where UPC soldiers abducted him from, yet in court he stated that he was abducted from Katoto School.
The witness said he did not recall what he said to OTP investigators on the issue, but he was certain that he was abducted from Katoto School.
Biju-Duval also asked ‘Witness 297’ to explain why in his interview with Mr. Lubanga’s defense last December he stated that soldiers who abducted him took him to Aru, yet in court he claimed they took him to Nizi.
“When I discussed this with you I had forgotten the names of the towns or villages. If I said Aru it’s probably because my memory was not working correctly and I forgotten,” replied the witness.
He added that when he met the defense lawyers he was not informed that they were going to interview him. “I did not know whether you had come to arrest me. I was afraid,” he said.
The defense will continue its cross-examination of ‘Witness 297’ on Monday, May 24, 2010.