This summary includes events that took place April 18 – 21, 2011.
Katanga’s third witness, Pierre Célestin Mbodina Iribi (also known as Pichou), began giving his testimony on April 18, 2011. Iribi, a Ngiti, was a high-ranking member of the FRPI (Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri), the armed militia allegedly led by defendant Germain Katanga. Katanga and co-defendant Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, alleged leader of the FNI (Nationalist and Integrationist Front), face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes before the ICC.
Iribi, like the witness before him, Floribert Njabu (President of the FNI), have been detained in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since they were arrested in 2005. The judges at the ICC gave Iribi assurances provided for by the Rome Statute (Articles 74 and 93(2)). Under Article 74, the witness is entitled to refuse to answer a question if it could incriminate him. Article 93(2) guarantees the witness that the ICC will not prosecute, detain, or subject the witness to any restriction on personal freedom for any of his actions or omissions from before he left the DRC for The Hague. This means that the ICC has guaranteed that it will not prosecute him for crimes he may have committed in the DRC.
Iribi testified about the FNI and the FRPI and other armed groups operating in Ituri during the conflict. Like the previous witness, Iribi highlighted role of the government of the DRC in the attack on Bogoro.
Witness was a Government Security Official
According to the witness, he joined the ANR (National Intelligence Agency) in 1998, when it was under the control of the government of the DRC. Later, when the RCD-GOMA (Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma) militia group took over eastern Congo, the witness said, the ANR became the ACR (Congolese Intelligence Agency) and was controlled by the RCD-K/ML (RCD-Kisangani/Movement for Liberation). Iribi testified that over time, he became the director of intelligence of the ACR.
Later, Iribi testified, he acted as both the intelligence officer of the FRPI and the commissioner for defense of the FNI.
The Formation of the FRPI and the FNI
The witness said that a group of refugees who had fled Bunia, Mongbwalu, and other areas of the region created the FRPI. The FRPI did not have a military structure when it was first created, Iribi testified, and did not form its military structure until after the peace-process had started. Iribi claimed that until then, military missions undertaken by members of the FRPI were assigned by the RCD-K/ML or EMOI (Integrated Operational Head Command).
Corroborating Njabu’s testimony, Iribi said that eminent figures from Kpandroma created the FNI in response to a request from Ugandan authorities to get involved in peace negotiations with Thomas Lubanga’s UPC (Union of Congolese Patriots; Lubanga is also on trial before the ICC). Iribi, like Floribert Njabu, was a founding member of the FNI.
He testified that the FNI and FRPI were in regular contact.
Iribi also testified that the Kinshasa government established EMOI as a military structure in Beni. EMOI provided ammunition, logistics, training, soldiers, and strategic support to the armed militias in Ituri, the witness testified said. Like Njabu, Iribi testified that the government of the DRC had ties with the RCD-K/ML and worked with them to block the advance of the and RCD-GOMA and MLC (Movement for the Liberation of Congo, an armed group whose leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is also on trial before the ICC).
The Attack on Bogoro
Iribi blamed the DRC government for the attack on Bogoro. He testified that EMOI, the government-backed military structure based in Beni, had sent officers to organize troops in the Aveba area and prepare the attack on Bogoro.
Iribi claimed that neither he nor Katanga participated in the attack. Katanga arrived in Bogoro one day later, he said. Iribi also said that Katanga was not well respected in the Bogoro area as he was seen as a stranger.
Uganda did not play any role in the attack, Iribi said.
Child Soldiers in the FRPI
Katanga and Ngudjolo both face charges of recruiting and using children under the age of 15 to participate in the hostilities. Iribi claimed that the FRPI did not have recruitment or training centers, and was not an army. According to the witness, anyone under 18 years old who was with the FRPI troops was there on their own initiative and for their own safety. He claimed that there were no child soldiers in Aveba.
Civilian Presence in Bogoro
On cross-examination, the prosecution asked the witness about whether or not he knew there were civilians in Bogoro when it was attacked. Iribi said he had heard that people were killed in the Bogoro attack, but said that according to the DRC Minister for Human Rights, these people were soldiers. He testified that he assumed the civilians had all fled Bogoro by the time of the February 2003 attack, since it had been attacked twice previously (in January 2001 and August 2002). Anyone who remained in Bogoro, he assumed were UPC soldiers or otherwise associated with the UPC.
Rwandan Assistance to the UPC
The witness also testified that while there were rumors of Rwandan assistance to the UPC, he did not know if these rumors were true. Iribi said that the separation of the cooperation between the UPC and UPDF (Ugandan Peoples Defense Force, the Ugandan army) ended because of cooperation between the UPC and Rwanda, but did not know the specifics of this cooperation.
The prosecution attacked the credibility of this testimony, implying that as intelligence officer, Iribi must have known about the UPC cooperation with the UPC.
“Yes, I was intelligence officer at that time, but I cannot confirm something I was not aware of, such as the relations between the UPC and Rwanda,” he replied.
The witness explained that the relations between the UPC and Rwanda were not obvious—just because there were Tutsis in the UPC did not mean that Rwanda “supplied” the UPC. He admitted that there had been rumors of parachute ammunition drops by Rwanda but could not confirm that this was true.
Iribi also testified that while the RCD-K/ML and Lendu fighters from the region had cooperated, the purpose of the fighting was to retake the Ituri region from the UPC. The attack on Bogoro was not ethnically motivated, he said, but was a strategic attack to gain control of the area.
Focusing on the ethnic tensions of the conflict, the prosecution asked the witness about a conversation he allegedly had with the DRC Minister of Human Rights. The Minister had reported that he had met with Iribi when soldiers were picking up bodies. The Minister purportedly asked Iribi to pick up the body of a young girl to bury her. Iribi allegedly responded that this girl was not from his ethnic group and that the dogs could be allowed to eat her body.
Iribi vigorously denied this.
“This is not a reflection of myself…I do not remember making such a statement…I have my own personal convictions, and at that time I was actually much closer to the Hema population,” he said.
Allegations of the Prosecution’s Unethical Behavior
This concluded the prosecution’s cross-examination. Defense Counsel for Katanga, who had objected to this last line of questioning, brought into question the ethics of the prosecution for raising this issue. He considered it a “dramatic flourish” to conclude the cross-examination and an immense unfairness to the witness that the defense had no notice of or opportunity to prevent.
The chamber noted that it was surprised to learn that “a statement that is not neutral was referred to at the close of the cross-examination.” However, the witness had responded, disputed the statement, and his testimony was on the record. This, in the view of the judges, concluded the issue.
The prosecution responded, however, noting that the prosecution “is doing its work in accordance with the rules set out by this chamber.” He recalled the defense’s treatment of prosecution witnesses, including the reference to one witness’ private life.
The presiding judge reminded the prosecution that there is an issue of transparency in the proceedings and stressed that the witness should not be surprised by anything. However, the presiding judge reiterated that the witness’ testimony was on the record and would be duly evaluated by the chamber during deliberations.
Questions by Victims’ Legal Representatives
The legal representative for child soldiers asked the witness to explain the establishment of the child soldier demobilization center in Aveba, in light of the witness’ previous testimony that there were no child soldiers in Aveba. The witness responded that the center was set up in the context of the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process. Iribi said that through this process, several demobilization sites were created, including one in Aveba. However, the presence of the demobilization sites in a particular location did not imply that there were child soldiers at those locations, Iribi insisted.
Questions from the Judges
The chamber focused its questions on the role of EMOI in the Bogoro attack. Iribi described EMOI as a coordinating body that would make binding decisions about operations in the area and reported directly to Kinshasa.
The witness testified that several meetings were held at the EMOI headquarters, including one meeting where Colonel Aguru presented a map of Ituri and discussed ways to retake the region. However, Iribi claimed, he was not invited to strategic or confidential meetings. Those meetings were attended by EMOI staff and representatives of the local militia groups, he said.
He also testified that both Katanga and Ngudjolo were in contact with EMOI headquarters in Beni. He said that Katanga had a personal relationship with Colonel Aguru, and the military relationship was based on that.
During one EMOI meeting, Iribi said, they discussed the attack on Bogoro. However, Iribi claimed that no direct target was set—the goal was to cut off the UPC station in Bogoro from a military supply route.
Iribi also claimed that the issue of civilians being in Bogoro was not raised at this meeting, but said that there had been formal instructions to ensure that a massacre would not happen. Maybe those orders were not clear enough, he speculated, but there were instructions that were derived from the rules that civilians should not be attacked. These instructions were given to commanders, he said, and not to the foot soldiers.
The presiding judge asked whether the planners aware that sending Lendu attackers to attack Bogoro created a danger that those combatants could also attack Hema civilians.
“Yes, I think they must have been aware, because the conflict between the Hema and Lendu was going on at this time, and this must have prompted them to take measures before. I do not know whether they managed to do that, but the risk was there in case these people were present there,” the witness replied.
The witness also testified that there was no formal strategy to gather combatants for the attack and that participants had invited themselves to join. Complicating the issue of who may be ultimately responsible for the attack, the witness said that eminent figures from the region had authority over the Lendu combatants fighting in Ituri and were kept informed by EMOI.
“It was those people who said that this should happen and this should be done,” he said. “What they said had be accepted…If they had said no to the attack, even if Kinshasa had decided to go ahead with it, nothing would have happened.”
The witness will continue his testimony on May 2, 2011.