After finishing the presentation of evidence against Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, in early December 2010, according to the provisional calendar issued by the court, the trial is set to resume today, February 21, 2011. The hearing is expected to recommence with the testimony of two participating victims, who have been authorized to appear before the bench. This will be followed by the case of the defendants.
The prosecution called a total of 26 witnesses, who have expressed their views in front of the judges of Trial Chamber II at the International Criminal Court (ICC), although only 25 among them will be taken into consideration. Meanwhile, due to credibility issues, the prosecution team requested the Chamber not to rely on the testimony of Witness 159, who testified to the events that took place in Bogoro and whose mother was killed on the day of the attack. In addition, two more witnesses were called by the Chamber.
Germain Katanga is the alleged the commander of FRPI (Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri) and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui is the alleged ancient dirigent of the FNI (Nationalist and Integrationist Front). They have been accused of jointly committing, through other persons, three crimes against humanity: murder; sexual slavery, and rape. Besides this they have also been charged with seven war crimes including the use of children under the age of 15 to take active part in hostilities; deliberately directing an attack on a civilian population; wilful killing; destruction of property; pillaging; sexual slavery and rape. These crimes were allegedly committed in Bogoro, a village in the Ituri Province of eastern DRC, from January to March 2003.
Witness 323, who testified from March 8 to 12, 2010, was a former UPC soldier based in the Bogoro institute and was present during the attack. According to his statement, there were killings, destructions, and pillage perpetrated by the attackers that he claims was observed by him from a hidden spot behind the bushes.
“There were many kadogo [young children], they participated in the war, but I couldn’t tell you their ages… They did not carry firearms, they were carrying machetes and arrows,” Witness 323 testified.
Several testimonies have tackled the issue of child soldiers. Mr. Jean Claude Renaud (Witness 373), a photojournalist whose pictures were tendered as evidence, took the stand at the beginning of April 2010. He commented on photos of what appeared to be very young children carrying weapons or wearing military clothing. “He [a child in a picture holding a gun] is holding a Kalashnikov AK-47” he said as he was being examined by Prosecutor Gilles Dutertre. “And how old is he according to you?” the Prosecutor continued. “I think he is between 11 and 12 years old,” Mr. Renaud answered. The pictures were taken in the Zumbe and Nyankunde/Songolo areas several weeks after the Bogoro attack.
Former child soldiers also came before the court to explain their experience in the armed groups of FNI and FRPI and to give evidence of the alleged responsibility of the accused in the organization of the Bogoro attack. Witness 279 said he was abducted together with other children of his age from his home village and taken to Zumbe hill, where he was trained to be a fighter. After providing information regarding the commanding structure of the FNI, the witness identified Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui as the Chief Commander of the Lendu combatants on Zumbe hill. According to him, the Bogoro attack was planned by Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui. The witness, who participated in the assault himself, described to the judges the preparations prior to the attack, which involved the gathering of troops, the directions from which the troops approached Bogoro, and the designation of the commanders leading the troops.
Furthermore, according to a worker in the field of demobilization of child soldiers (Witness 267), Katanga had the ultimate power within the FRPI to decide on or authorize the demobilization of the children from his armed forces.
They have not been the only ones to testify on the structure of the militia and the authority of the accused. The most striking of the accounts had been the testimony of Witness 28, a former child soldier based in the Aveba camp. He provided information about the commanding structure of the FRPI and underlined Katanga’s supreme authority. “As you were moving forward in the field and there where gunfights, do you know what Germain Katanga was doing?” asked Prosecutor Eric MacDonald. “Germain was there, he was part of the group of combatants, he was fighting as well. We were all advancing together. You know, in the battlefield there are no chiefs, everybody has to fight according to their experience,” answered the witness. “What happened at the end of the battle?” continued the Prosecutor. “There was pillage and houses were burnt and cadavers were buried, wherever possible”. The witness also described the planning of the attack together with the FNI and the presence of the FNI delegation in Aveba on the days prior to the attack.
When asked by the Legal Representative of Victims, Mr. Gilissen, if he has nowadays understood what was happening during the time of the conflict, the former child soldier said: “To the present I still haven’t understood anything of what happened. Even now in my head, a Hema is an enemy.”
The voice of women has also been heard. According to Witness 249, she was in Bogoro on the day of the attack and was shot in the leg while trying to flee. While testifying she said that a group of attackers raped her after she was found, despite of her injured leg. She explained, “I told them, ‘please leave me alone, I am tired.’ They said, ‘If you can’t we’ll kill you.’ I said, ‘OK, you can kill me I don’t care.’ Then they dragged me but I refused, and they threw me on the floor and raped me once and again, and again, and again. I was really weak and I was in a lot of pain.” She was subsequently given as a wife to one of the soldiers and only managed to flee after several weeks. As a result of the rapes that occurred during her captivity, she fell pregnant. She witnessed the mass burial of bodies behind the Bogoro Institute after the attack, in the holes around the camp as well as in the holes that served as latrines.
Similarly, Witness 132 was abducted during the Bogoro attack and kept captive in one of the Ngiti camps where she was sexually abused by the soldiers. Due to her mental state, caused by the trauma she lived, she has been granted special protective measures and was accompanied by a member of the Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) at the Court.
The accounts of several kinds of witnesses were presented before the panel. During the duration of the trial until recently, the judges have also heard testimonies of the civilian population that identified the accused, the village Chief of Bogoro and a Human Rights Officer working for the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC) at the time of the events, amongst others. Now it is the turn of the participating victims to explain their accounts in front of the court.
According to the estimation given in a hearing on November 29, 2010, the defense teams of Katanga and Ngudjolo will call between 30 and 35 witnesses respectively, taking approximately three months for each team to present all the evidence. According to Sophie Menegon, Case Manager for the Katanga defense team, all their witnesses are going to be crime-based witnesses. “We are still deciding on which testimonies to use and the team has gone to Ituri to meet some of the witnesses … but we estimate that we’ll present our first witness by 23 March,” she explained.
Ms. Menegon could not comment on the defense strategy of her team. This will only be public by March 7, when the defense team will have to disclose their evidence to the parties as well as a document explaining the main lines of defense. As decided by the Chamber, the disclosure obligations only have to be met 15 days before the commencement of the defense case.
Nevertheless, we could anticipate some of the points that the defense of Germain Katanga will raise. During his opening statement on November 24, 2009, Mr. Hooper, defense counsel of Germain Katanga, stressed the involvement of the neighboring Rwanda and Uganda in the Ituri conflict, and the laissez-faire of President Kabila’s Government. According to Mr. Hooper, neither Germain Katanga nor the military group he allegedly commanded had the maturity or the resources to conduct such an attack.
“Who founded the FRPI? How did it develop? We suggest that you pay particular attention to that question, because it’s our submission that it was only in March 2003 that the FRPI – that had existed essentially nominally up until then – began to become organised,” pointed out Mr. Hooper. “Who benefitted from the attack? Who provided the arms that the Ngiti people were, destitute as they were, quite incapable of buying? Who provided the military knowledge necessary to conduct such a relatively sophisticated operation?” he asked.
These might be some of the issues that will be tackled throughout the defense case.