The trial of former Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo resumed today after a four months’ hiatus. It opened with a ruling from judges on the appearance of certain defense witnesses. Lubanga’s counsel applied to call two witnesses in addition to those already on the witness list and to hear testimony of certain witnesses via video link. Judges granted Mr. Lubanga’s request to call additional witnesses, and approved the use of video transmission in order to avoid further delays in the trial and to assure the fair trial of the accused. The judges said these steps would not materially prejudice the prosecution or the legal representatives of victims participating in the trial.
Defense counsel Jean‐Marie Biju‐Duval called witness Bede Djokaba Lambi Longa, an initiator with Mr. Lubanga of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC). Longa testified that a small group organized the UPC in 2000 to establish order and security in the Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in response to the inability of the then-governing group to do so. There were no soldiers, militia or other armed groups in the UPC, he said.
When the Front de Liberation du Congo (FLC) – to which he said Mr. Lubanga also belonged – took over the government in Ituri in early 2001, the chairman initiated meetings with prominent community members to discuss how to resolve the conflict. The result was the Agreement on a Protocol for Resolving Interethnic Conflict between the Hema and Lendu [ethnic groups] in Ituri. Mr. Lubanga became Assistant National Secretary for Youth. The witness said that Mr. Lubanga informed the UPC about the agreement and convinced Mr. Martin Shalo Dudu to disseminate it among the Lendu.
In 2001 the FLC broke up. The UPC then teamed up with the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie – Kisangani/Mouvement de Liberation(RCD-K-ML) and Mr. Lubanga became a commissioner with responsibility for defense, according to Lonja. The situation deteriorated in 2002 and led to fighting and massacres. The RCD-K-ML made no effort to restore order, and Mr. Lubanga lacked the means to do so, leading him to resign, the witness testified. Contradicting prosecution evidence that the UPC became a political-military movement as of April 17, 2002, Mr. Longa testified that the UPC did not have an armed branch before May 2002.
After Mr. Lubanga’s resignation, he went several times to Uganda to seek assistance. During one visit, Ugandan authorities arrested Mr. Lubanga at the request of the “ex-Kinshasa government.” He was extradited and subsequently imprisoned in Kinshasa. Also while he was in Uganda, a mutiny occurred in the Armee du Peuple Congolais (APC), the military wing of the RCD-K-ML. Mr. Longa testified that Chief Kahwa Panga Mandro played a significant role in the mutiny, allowing the mutineers to stay in his tribal area, organizing them, and acting with them “hand in hand.” Mr. Longa maintained Chief Kahwa was not a UPC member during the time of the mutiny (April- July 2002), but later became deputy national secretary for defense of the UPC.
The witness said the mutineers initially consisted of approximately 36 soldiers, but grew significantly, in part through recruitment and training at a training center established by Kawha in Mandro, according to the witness. The prosecution alleges child soldiers were trained there. In April, June and August 2002, the mutineers fought loyalists in Bunia town and ultimately prevailed with assistance from the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF). Throughout this time, Mr. Lubanga was in prison and completely out of touch, said Mr. Longa. While the UPC attempted to take credit for the victory in order to secure a voice in the new government, it was a victory for the mutineers, according to the witness.
Following the August 9, 2002 victory, Chief Kawha met with prominent town leaders to decide who should be entrusted with management of the conquered territory. He opposed a leading candidate, opening the way for Mr. Lubanga who had returned from prison in Kinshasa. Mr. Lubanga met the mutineers’ requirements of “someone who could help them establish a humane form of power in Ituri, take into consideration the interests of all the people, and make sure the security of individuals and well-being were important elements of the political program,” Mr. Longa reported.
Chief Kawha’s armed force was restructured in December 2002 by the UPC and named the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
As the day neared its end, defense counsel began questioning his witness about self-defense committees that allegedly spontaneously arose in response to Lendu attacks against Hema villages. People of all ages, including children under 15 years old, voluntarily joined, Mr. Longa testified. “Everyone resolved to defend themselves. There was no reason for anyone not to be involved,” he said.
After the UPC assumed responsibility for managing Ituri and restructured the army, Mr. Lubanga as president of the UPC and secretary of national defense issued a decision to demobilize all soldiers under 18 years of age, according to the witness. Apparently, the military did not fully implement it as Mr. Lubanga issued the decision twice more – in November 2002 and January 2003.
Mr. Longa’s testimony will continue tomorrow.