It was earlier reported here that on Monday, February 21, Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Katanga and Ngudjolo trial heard from victim participants for the first time. The witnesses testified about the events that happened during an attack on Bogoro, their village in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on February 24, 2003. They also testified about how the attack has affected their lives, describing the violent deaths of family members and others, as well as the loss of significant personal wealth.
The victims’ testimony can help provide additional facts about what happened on the day of the attack on Bogoro, as well as contextual information about the situation in the area leading up to the attacks. This testimony can also affect sentencing if the two accused are found guilty, as well as any decision on reparations to victims.
Four participating victims were scheduled to testify, but for unknown reasons, only two took the stand. Both claimed that Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui were responsible for the attack.
Katanga is the alleged commander of the Force de résistance patriotique en Ituri (FRPI) militia. Ngudjolo is the alleged former leader of the Front des nationalistes et intégrationnistes (FNI) militia.
The two are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by their forces in Bogoro. The accused deny all charges against them.
Wanting to see justice done
The hearing began with the legal representative for victims of the attack telling the Judges that all of the victims are expecting that justice be rendered. The victims are yearning that justice be done and that those responsible are found guilty within the framework of the law, the legal representative said.
He applauded the fact that victim participation is a major step forward for international justice, which is reaching out to victims—the people most directly affected by mass atrocities. Allowing victims to participate in a substantive manner, by giving testimony, allows victims’ views to be heard by the Judges, he declared.
Testimony of Victim 2
The first victim participant to testify in the Katanga trial testified with protective measures, including voice and image distortion, pseudonym, and frequent private sessions when the testimony could include confidential information.
“This is not the day that I will die.”
Victim 2 testified that in 2003, she was living in Bogoro with her husband, eight children, and her parents. Before 2003, she said, there were several ethnic groups living in Bogoro, including Hema, Ngiti, and Lendu. The witness said that the different ethnic groups got along very well, but that in the late part of 2002 and early part of 2003, villagers began to hear rumors that the Lendu were preparing for war, and that the Hema should take precautions.
The witness’ parents left Bogoro in the wake of these rumors, taking four of the witness’ children with them. The witness, her husband, and four of their children stayed behind.
She told the court that the attack on Bogoro started around five o’clock in the morning. She said she was awoken by gunshots from the direction of the soldier’s camp at the Bogoro Institute, about a 30 minute walk from her home. She woke her husband and together with their children, they fled in the direction of the Institute, seeking safety in the soldiers’ camp. They were unable to enter the camp and continued to flee in the dark along a footpath, she testified.
Victim 2 had her baby swaddled against her back, she said, and they were separated from her husband and the other children in the chaos of the attack. She testified that once it became light and they could see the enemy coming into the village, her family scattered.
As she continued to run, she said she felt someone hit her with a machete. She said she turned and saw that her child had been decapitated, and that then the child fell from her cloth wrap. The witness said that she continued to run and then hid, telling herself “this is not the day that I will die.”
While in hiding, she said she could hear the attackers shouting in “their language” and chasing other people. She described the attackers as “short people with machetes, Lendu people.”
Victim 2 came out of hiding when she heard someone say in Swahili, “I’m asking you continue to run, to flee to Bunia, because this camp is swallowed by the … Lendu and the Ngiti. There is no other way out.”
The witness subsequently made her way to Bunia, she said, where she was reunited with her husband and three children. The family later went to live in a refugee camp in Uganda but returned to the DRC to participate in elections in 2005.
“We had a nice life…today we have nothing.”
Victim 2 also discussed the harm she suffered because of the attack. She claimed that before the attack, she had managed a restaurant, which was destroyed in the attack. She also claimed that she had seven cows, twenty-five goats, chickens, a straw hut, land that she cultivated, and other possessions that were all stolen, lost, or destroyed due to the attack.
“We had a nice life, a lot of things…today we have nothing,” she told the Judges.
The witness also testified about emotional and psychological trauma that she suffered because of the attacks. This evidence could have an impact on sentencing, if the Judges reach a guilty verdict, and on reparations.
Katanga and Ngudjolo are Responsible for the Attack
Concluding the testimony of the first victim participant in the Katanga trial, the legal representative asked her if she knew who was responsible for the attack on Bogoro. She answered in the affirmative, naming Katanga and Ngudjolo.
She claimed that a former colleague of her parents as well as women who would come to the Bogoro market told people from Bogoro that Katanga and Ngudjolo were training people from their areas. This evidence directly implicates the criminal responsibility of the two accused for the crimes described by the witness.
Cross-examination by the Defense Teams
The defense for Katanga opened its cross-examination of the witness by telling her that he and his client were deeply sorry for the victim’s suffering and the loss of her child. He then proceeded to question her about inconsistencies between her in-court testimony and her previous statements, attempting to discredit the witness.
The defense focused its cross-examination on the witness’ motive to testify and the possibility that her version of events had been contaminated by discussions with others. He implied that she was testifying about Katanga’s responsibility for these events because she thought that if he was convicted, she would get reparations. He also implied that her story—and specifically her assertion that Katanga was responsible for the attack—had been influenced by discussions with other victims and persons associated with the trial.
The witness reiterated her testimony that Ngiti women had told the women of Bogoro that Germain Katanga was training young people and that there would be an attack on Bogoro. These women also mentioned another group led by someone called Cobra Matata, and a man called Yuda.
Counsel for Katanga suggested that this was not true.
“In the latter part of 2002 and the first weeks of 2003, Ngiti women could not come to the market in Bogoro. If they did so, their life would be in danger,” he said.
He submitted that the victim was not living in Bogoro during the relevant period in the trial. There may have been Lendu and Ngiti women who travelled to the town while she was living there, but during February 2003, when the attack happened, this was impossible, he said.
“In 2002, before Christmas, the women used to come in groups,” she said. “At the beginning of 2003, they were scared of coming.”
She admitted that in 2001, 2002, and the beginning of 2003, relations between the Hema and the Ngiti and Lendu were not good. However, in her statement to prosecutors from last year, she had said that relations between the groups were good. The defense will try to use inconsistencies like this to convince the judges that her evidence is not believable.
The witness denied suggestions that the UPC had attacked the Ngiti and Lendu villages of Zumbe, Lakpa and Songolo. The defense suggested that if she had been living in Bogoro in 2003, she must have known that the UPC had attacked Songolo on that day.
“I didn’t hear about that UPC attack against Songolo, and I’m really wondering whether the UPC had the means to attack Songolo,” she replied. She also said she had not heard of attacks on the other villages.
Defense counsel implied that the witness was naming Germain Katanga because she had heard that if he was convicted she could get reparations.
The witness responded that she had once asked what the outcome would be after she had given her statements. However, she said she had not had an answer to her question.
Defense counsel for Ngudjolo also asked the witness about inconsistencies between her various statements.
For example, in her application to participate as a victim, she had stated that she had arrived at the Bogoro Institute on the morning of the attack. However, in her statement given to the Prosecution, she said she did not reach the Institute. The witness maintained that she did not reach the Institute, even though she had wanted to go there.
The witness was also asked about her DRC identity card. She explained that it lists her living children, but that when a child dies, his or her name is removed.
The name of the child she said was killed during the Bogoro attack was not listed on the card. The witness was asked how the name could have disappeared from the card. She said that the procedure for striking a deceased child’s name off the card was introduced after the fighting.
Defense counsel for Ngudjolo suggested that the card was not complete. He noted that his own DRC identity card includes a column listing deaths that was not present on the copy of the witness’ card available in court. He may have hoped to show that the witness’ story about her child was fabricated by arguing that if she would have had a child killed as she claimed, both the child’s birth and death would be listed on the card, whereas the card shown in Court made no mention of the child.
However, because the original card was not available in court, the accuracy of the copy of the witness’ card could not be verified. The Presiding Judge noted that the format of the identity cards may have changed over the years.
On reexamination, the witness explained this point further. She testified that she went to update her identity card after the war. She also said that three of her ten children had died, and explained that none of these three were listed on her card, as this was forbidden in her collectivity. This could help belie the defense’s point.
Testimony of Victim 4
This victim began her testimony on February 23, 2011. She testified with protective measures, including a pseudonym and voice and image distortion.
“If I’d stayed … I would have been killed. My throat would have been slit.”
The witness testified that civilians from Bogoro would take refuge in the Bogoro Institute each time there was an attack on the village by the Lendu and Ngiti. The UPC soldiers who were based at the Bogoro Institute were there to protect the civilians and ensure their safety, she said.
She had sent her children away before the February 24 attack, she said, so that they would be safe. However, because her fields were in Bogoro, she had to stay, she maintained.
At four o’clock on the morning of the attack, she was awoken by gunshots, Victim 4 testified. She also heard people shouting in the Lendu and Ngiti languages, she said, coming from the attackers.
The witness fled to the Bogoro Institute, she testified, and was able to enter one of the buildings in the Institute.
“There were many people [in the room],” she said. “I couldn’t tell you how many. Each person was running to save his skin and going into the buildings at the Institute.”
The people included Hema, Alur, and Gegere people, she said, of all ages.
The witness told the Judges that she did not stay in the room at the Institute.
“If I’d stayed in the classroom, I would have been killed. My throat would have been slit,” she said.
When the sound intensified and the enemy gained the upper hand, the UPC soldiers told them to flee, Victim 4 claimed. She left and hid in the bush, trying to find a way to flee, the witness testified. She said she was not in the classroom for more than an hour.
The witness testified that she was eventually able to flee through the bush to Bunia. As she was fleeing, she had to jump over dead bodies, the witness claimed.
Much of the witness’ testimony about the attack on Bogoro was conducted in closed session. She testified that she had lost family members during the attack, in addition to shepherds who took care of her cows.
The witness claimed that it was the men led by Katanga and Ngudjolo who attacked Bogoro in 2001 and 2003.
“The Lendu and Ngiti bandits are continuing to threaten us.”
Victim 4 also testified about the effect of the attack on her life. She explained that at the time of the attack, she had over 130 head of cattle, which are a great source of wealth for Hema people. These cows were stolen by the attackers, she said, as well as other animals and possessions.
She also testified about what it is like today in the region. It is not entirely safe, she maintained. “In the place where we live, our Ngiti and Lendu brothers are quite rude to us,” she added. “They often say that although they killed us, they won’t let things happen or take the normal course of events.”
The witness is afraid for her own safety, she said, “because the Lendu and Ngiti bandits are continuing to threaten us, and that makes me even more scared.”
Cross-examination by the Defense Teams
The defense for Katanga cross-examined the witness and alleged that the witness was not in Bogoro on the day of the attack.
“On the 23rd of February, 2003, I was in Bogoro. I’ve told you that. I was there on the day of the attack on Bogoro,” the witness insisted.
The defense also claimed that the witness had lied about her cattle being stolen during the attack, suggesting that she had moved them because she knew there would be an attack on Bogoro. The witness denied this, maintaining that the cows were in Bogoro because that is where they could graze.
Continuing to push this point, Katanga’s defense counsel suggested that the witness had moved her cows with a large herd of cattle from Bogoro into Uganda. The witness repeatedly refuted this point.
Counsel for Katanga’s defense also questioned the witness about inconsistencies in her previous statements given to the legal representatives and her application to participate. Twice she had said that her father was killed during the Bogoro attack, but she later said this was an error.
The witness explained that she had made that “mistake” because her father was killed by Katanga’s and Ngudjolo’s men in the 2001 attack, and other family members were killed during the 2003 attack. The defense insisted, however, that she explain why she had stated that her father and uncle were killed on the same day in 2003.
“As far as I’m concerned, I gave that version because I wanted to draw out one fact,” she testified. “I wanted you to know who killed my father and who killed my family members. I wanted to draw a parallel between the same person who killed my father in 2001 and the person that killed my family members in 2003,” she continued. “You see, I didn’t restrict myself to that one thing, because after that I gave the real version in a later statement. I gave the real version.”
This admission could harm the witness’ credibility, as it indicates that she was not truthful in her initial application and statements.
Cross-examination by Ngudjolo’s team focused primarily on challenging her memory of events and inconsistencies between her in-court testimony and an interview in September 2010.
Raising the issue of her discrepancies between her in-court testimony and her September 2010 statement, the defense for Ngudjolo asked whether she changed her story because of advice from the Legal Representative that false testimony could lead to Prosecutions before the ICC. The witness’ response was given during closed session.
Defense counsel for Ngudjolo also asked her who was responsible for the 2001 attack on Bogoro. The witness responded that the Lendu and Ngiti were responsible for that attack. When asked whether they had a name at that time, said that it was the same names as the group that attacked in 2003.
Her application to participate in the proceedings stated that the FRPI and FNI were responsible for the attack on February 24, 2003, defense counsel noted. The witness said that at the time of the attack she was aware of the FRPI and FNI, but she could not tell the court what the initials meant.