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Prosecution’s Planned Rebuttal Witness Declines To Testify

Today, the judges of the Thomas Lubanga trial heard that an individual the prosecution planned to call as a rebuttal witness will not be taking the witness stand. This individual has stated in interviews with prosecution officials that he was a former child soldier in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the group Mr. Lubanga is alleged to have led during 2002 and 2003.

According to prosecutors, this person, who goes by the pseudonym ‘witness 555’ would have given evidence about the alleged climate of fear and intimidation in Bunia in eastern Congo amongst individuals who were alleged to have cooperated with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The defense for Mr. Lubanga, who is being tried over the recruitment and use child soldiers, has stated that ‘witness 555’ lied to court about his alleged military service.

“The defense contends that members of [witness] 555’s family and relevant school documents reveal that he was not in the army at the relevant time,” Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said today. Besides, he added, “The defense submits that this is a false witness and that the prosecution failed to carry out proper checks to ensure they would be calling a witness of truth.”

Prosecutors at the ICC charge that Mr. Lubanga was the head of the UPC and its militia, which used child soldiers in armed conflict. Mr. Lubanga’s defense has accused intermediaries of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of coercing children into giving forged testimony, including falsely claiming to have been conscripted into the UPC.

The prosecution has stated that since July, the only contact between the OTP and ‘witness 555’ had concerned his availability to testify. In an oral ruling today, judges ordered that prosecutors should reveal all the details of their communication with this individual. This came upon confirmation that ‘witness 555’ would not be taking the witness stand yet evidence relating to him had been called into question.

Last week, prosecuting attorney Manoj Sachdeva reported that although ‘Witness 555’ had been expected to testify this week, prosecutors still had to talk to him to establish whether he would be willing to testify. He added, however, that the OTP was also not entirely decided whether to call him or not.

During his interviews with OTP staff, ‘Witness 555’ stated that a certain personality who is linked to Mr. Lubanga asked him whether he knew any people who could accept to give testimony at the ICC in favor of the accused. The witness claimed he understood that this proposal was being made to him.

Last June, prosecutors stated that this witness had been intimidated by a relative of Mr. Lubanga, who also allegedly conducts work in Congo for the defense team of the accused. As a result, prosecutors added, he had become reluctant to cooperate with the ICC. 

Over the last four days, an intermediary who helped the OTP’s investigators to contact witnesses who went on to testify against Mr. Lubanga has been testifying – but all of his evidence was given in closed session. Judges today ordered that a redacted version of his testimony should be published in due course.

The trial is expected to continue tomorrow.