Former Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga told child soldiers to get women, cows, and vehicles, reassuring them that “everything belongs to soldiers,” according to testimony heard today at his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
A witness who worked with several former child soldiers made this claim today while testifying about one of the children he helped to get demobilized from the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). This witness, who was an intermediary of prosecution investigators in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was today cross-examined by defense attorney Marc Desalliers, who asked him to explain the circumstances of his first meeting with the un-named former child soldier.
And so the witness – whose court name is ‘intermediary 321’ – went on to recount the words he recalled the young fighter telling him.
“The child went on to say that he worked with Thomas Lubanga for quite some time and he said that Thomas Lubanga told him that soldiers should be in possession of all and sundry, that is to say women, vehicles, cows; that everything belongs to them,” the witness said. “He [Lubanga] also told them that after the war they would have a better life.”
The intermediary said the child told him that he was one of the soldiers who were closest to Mr. Lubanga, and that he was among the soldiers who guarded a weapons drop-off point. The intermediary said the child subsequently took him to this area and explained to him how aeroplanes dropped weapons into the area.
At the time, the intermediary worked with a Non-Government Organization (NGO) that helped child soldiers to quit military service and get reunited with their families. The first meeting between the child soldier and the intermediary took place at the offices of the NGO, whose name was not given in open court.
“Was this child demobilizing on his own volition or was it his military group which was demobilizing him?” asked Mr. Desalliers.
The witness replied that the child had deserted the UPC’s armed group after realizing that he was getting no benefit from the service yet he was undergoing a lot of suffering in the UPC. He thus escaped from the UPC and went to the office of the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Congo (MONUC). Staff at MONUC then took the boy to the agency where the witness worked.
The witness said that after the boy escaped from the UPC, he was afraid that if he were apprehended he would be killed and his fellow soldiers would eat his body. “That is what their commander told them. He said that if someone were to desert, they would be caught, killed, grilled and eaten.”
The intermediary gave most of his evidence in closed session so it was not possible to know what child solder he was talking about. But judges at Mr Lubanga’s trial have heard from a number of defense witnesses that ‘intermediary 321’ bribed and coached witnesses to claim that they were former child soldier in the UPC. The intermediary has denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Lubanga, the alleged former head of the UPC, is on trial at the ICC over the recruitment, conscription and use of child soldiers in armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has denied the charges, which prosecutors claim he committed during 2002 and 2003.
Judges ordered the prosecution to produce ‘intermediary 321’ to give evidence, after a number of defense witnesses implicated him in various acts of corrupting evidence. Among others, some witnesses claimed that this intermediary bribed some individuals who were never child soldiers to lie to investigators that they were former members of the UPC. Some of these individuals reportedly went on to testify as prosecution witnesses and to claim that they were conscripted into the UPC.
Mr Lubanga’s defense is expected to continue examining the intermediary tomorrow.