A new witness today started testifying in Thomas Lubanga’s war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), but gave all his evidence in closed session.
Last week, an intermediary of the court’s prosecution office, who testified for four days, gave all evidence in closed session. This was after Mr. Lubanga’s defense stated that it would be unable to cross-examine him in open court, as there were many names of protected witnesses that would be brought up.
At the start of today’s hearing, presiding Judge Adrian Fulford asked prosecuting attorney Manoj Sachdeva to try and conduct some examination in open court, after noting that the evidence of the last witness had “regrettably” been held in private session. “If there is any way of being able to deliver at least part of this evidence in open session, I would ask you please to construct your questions in such a way as to make that a real opportunity that court can avail itself of,” said the judge.
Sachdeva replied: “I have indeed thought about trying to conduct part of the examination in public and I think that we can achieve that.”
However, Mr. Sachdeva requested that the first part of the examination be held in private session. That marked the end of the open session for the day – with the witness taking oath and giving all evidence in closed session. It was therefore not possible to know anything about the issues the witness testified about.
Today’s and last week’s witnesses testified with protective measures such as voice and face distortion so as to protect their identities. Since the start of the trial in January last year, the majority of defense and prosecution witnesses have testified using pseudonyms, as well as with voice and face distortion. This is due to fears that once the identities of the witnesses are known, they might be subjected to reprisal attacks. The court has relocated some of the witnesses from their home districts to other regions in Congo, or out of the country altogether.
Mr. Lubanga, a former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots in the still-volatile Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has denied that he recruited, conscripted and used child soldiers in armed conflict. Prosecutors claim that he used the child soldiers during 2002 and 2003 in inter-ethnic fighting that mainly pitied his Hema ethnic group against the Lendu community.
The trial is currently hearing from intermediaries and investigators of the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP), as well as the prosecution’s rebuttal witnesses, after which the defense will ask judges to dismiss the case on the grounds of abuse of process related to the alleged coaching of witnesses by intermediaries. The defense said last week that it would file this abuse of process application by December 12.
Today’s witness is expected to continue giving testimony tomorrow.