War crimes accused Thomas Lubanga’s defense today called Pierre Zuto Munji, who served as the private secretary to Bosco Ntaganda, the alleged deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). Mr. Ntaganda faces the same charges as Mr. Lubanga before the International Criminal Court (ICC), namely committing war crimes by conscripting, enlisting, and using children under the age of 15 in hostilities during 2002 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but he remains at large.
In 2000, Mr. Munji joined the Congolese Popular Army (APC), the army of the Congolese Rally for Democracy – Liberation Movement (RCD-ML) group. With others, he left the APC in 2002 because of inhumane treatment. During this time the war was growing in intensity. After an interval at home, he joined a self-defense group being organized in the town of Mandro by Chief Kahwa to defend the Hema ethnic community. The group eventually became the military force of the UPC. When that force was designated the FPLC in September 2002, Mr. Munji became Mr. Ntaganda’s secretary.
He authenticated a letter from Mr. Ntaganda to the General Administration of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) which stated, “Our units were met with fierce opposition from those responsible for self-defense forces when it came to demobilizing and disarming children (under 18) within the group.” The letter supports yesterday’s testimony by the coordinator of the self-defense committees, Origen Lokana Nyamutale Katekpa, that they resisted Mr. Lubanga’s order to demobilize and disarm children.
Prosecutor Manoj Sachdeva spent considerable time questioning Mr. Munji about a letter dated October 30, 2002, signed on behalf of FPLC Chief of Staff, Floribert Kisembo, and allegedly sent to all commanders ordering the demobilization of child soldiers. Mr. Sachdeva suggested the document was numbered out of sequence according to the system used by the FPLC. It was evidence, he alleged, that the letter had been fabricated to stave off further complaints from the United Nations and the international community over the use of child soldiers in the FPLC. The witness denied it, offering that any discrepancy in numbering must have been a mistake.
Mr. Munji agreed with the prosecutor’s suggestion that the October 30, 2002 letter and another on demobilization referred to the self-defense forces, but he insisted these forces were not incorporated into the FPLC. In that case, Mr. Sachdeva inquired, why was the FPLC issuing orders to a group that was not part of its chain of command? The witness responded that, while the self-defense groups and the FPLC each had their own chain of command, orders like the demobilization order were to be enforced everywhere. At least in this instance, the FPLC command could dictate to the self-defense groups. The prosecutor did not ask what the other situations were where the FPLC’s authority trumped that of the self-defense groups.
The prosecutor then reminded the witness that he testified earlier that he had joined a self-defense group at Mandro which was later integrated into the FPLC. Mr. Munji attempted to clarify. His group evolved after people fleeing from villages joined it and a decision was taken to open a training center there. Eventually, this became the genesis of the FPLC, but the village self-defense groups remained autonomous, he asserted.
Contrary to what Mr. Katekpa stated yesterday, Mr. Munji insisted there were no soldiers under the age of 15 in the self-defense groups. While there were children under 18 years of age in the FPLC, none were under 15, the witness insisted. He then told the court that it is difficult to tell the age of children in the DRC solely from their appearance. Some young people are very tall and “that’s how certain individuals ended up in the training centers,” he offered. Mr. Munji indicated they were sent away, but admitted he had not visited any of the military camps of the FPLC. In response to the prosecutor’s suggestion that Mr. Ntaganda had children among his bodyguards, the witness denied it.
Mr. Sachdeva completed his cross-examination for the day by inquiring whether Eric Mbabazi, head of G-5, the UPC’s department for morale and discipline, at the time, was actively attempting to recruit children into the FPLC during October 2002 to 2003 at the same time demobilization orders were issued. “To say he was recruiting children, I cannot answer. However, I know he was trying to rally young people to go to the training centers,” Mr. Munji replied.
The prosecutor will continue his cross-examination of Mr. Munji tomorrow. The defense will then call its final witness.