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Witness Testifies in Closed Session on ‘Climate of Fear’

The war crimes trial of Thomas Lubanga reconvened this afternoon in The Hague to hear ‘witness 598,’ who the prosecutor substituted for ‘witness 555’ after he refused to testify. The hearing was closed to the public.

Earlier, the prosecution announced that ‘witness 555’ would testify about the alleged climate of fear and intimidation in Bunia among individuals alleged to have cooperated with the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is expected that ‘witness 598’ is providing that testimony.

The prosecution is attempting to establish that witnesses such as ‘witness 15,’an alleged child soldier who recanted his testimony when he appeared in court, were responding to threats and the climate of fear in Bunia. ‘Witness 15’ claimed he was bribed by an intermediary from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC to falsely claim that he had served as a child soldier in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the group Mr. Lubanga allegedly commanded. Mr. Lubanga is charged with conscripting, recruiting, and using child soldiers in the 2002 – 2003 conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Prosecution ‘intermediary 316’ testified a few weeks ago, denying that he gave money to ‘witness 15’ and coached him to lie about his participation in the UPC. An investigator for the OTP, Nicolas Sebire, who worked with ‘intermediary 316’ in locating and securing testimony of child soldiers, insisted last week in court that he knew nothing about alleged bribery and coaching of ‘witness 15’ or other prosecution witnesses who testified as child soldiers. Mr. Sebire told the court that he found ‘intermediary 316’ credible. Another OTP investigator, ‘witness 592,’ gave a deposition in closed session.

Trial Chamber I is conducting hearings on defense allegations of abuse of process by the prosecution. Hearings are scheduled through December 10, 2010. There is no indication whether they will be open to the public. Last week, the Chamber ruled that the defense must submit its application to have the case dismissed for abuse of process by December 10. The prosecution will have until January 31, 2011 to respond.