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UPC Had No Military Objectives, Witness States

Bede Djokaba Lambi Longa took the stand for the third day to undergo cross-examination by the prosecution in the trial of Thomas Lubanga for recruitment, conscription, and use of child soldiers in the Ituri District of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during 2002 and 2003.

The prosecutor focused his questioning on the original nature of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), attempting to elicit the witnesses’ agreement that it had military as well as political objectives. Despite references to a military component in various documents, Mr. Longa insisted the UPC was initiated for political purposes only. Circumstances led to its adoption of military objectives, he said. When the prosecutor suggested that the UPC was established in response to the massacres in Ituri in 2000 and 2001, the witness denied it, asserting that the massacres began in June 1999 and the UPC was established more than a year later. That does not rule out the possibility raised by the prosecutor, of course. Mr. Longa elaborated that the UPC was set up to challenge the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) power structure,which was operating like a mafia, extorting payments from businesses. It was the Union of Congolese Patriots for Reconciliation and Peace (UCP-RP) that took up arms against the Congolese Rally for Democracy – Liberation Movement (RCD-ML) for mismanagement, mediocrity, and organizing the massacres, he said. The UCP-RP was organized to carry out the military function. The prosecutor noted that the Congolese Rally for Democracy – Kisangani Liberation Movement (RCD-K-ML or RCD-ML) was chased out of Ituri on August 9, 2002 before the UCP-PR was established.

The prosecutor turned to questioning Mr. Longa about visits he has received while in prison, attempting to determine if he discussed his testimony with members of the UPC. While on several occasions he has met with two UPC members, they have talked about his case but not his testimony in Mr. Lubanga’s case, he said. Mr. Longa scoffed when the prosecutor asked whether he was able to leave the prison and whether he was engaged in selling fish in the prison. Judge Adrian Fulford questioned the relevance and the prosecutor ended this line of examination.

Given an opportunity by the prosecutor, Mr. Longa expressed frustration over his own case. He said he has been detained since March 19, 2005 and still does not know why. Though he inadvertently came across a document stating that he was charged with crimes against humanity for carrying out a systematic attack against civilians from May 2003 to December 2005, he has not appeared before a judge. Mr. Longa pointed out that he was in prison during part of the time he is charged with committing crimes. The prosecutor noted that the offenses were under the military code, which perhaps does not give him due process rights.

Mr. Longa informed the judges that the DRC is unable to mete out justice and referred to the DRC’s own assessment when it referred the situation in Ituri to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In January 2007, he and others in his situation sent a memo, copied to the ICC, to the DRC Minister of Justice (MOJ) requesting referral of their cases to the ICC. In January 2009, he said, the MOJ appeared at the ICC and told the prosecutor that he and the other detainees were not being prosecuted for war crimes, but for charges made by a nongovernmental organization regarding the murder of nine “blue helmets” (United Nations peacekeeping forces) on January 25, 2005. Again, Mr. Longa pointed out that he was in prison at the time. “I appeal to you to take charge of this case so justice can be done,” he addressed the judges, citing Article 17 of the Rome Statute that allows the ICC to take charge of a case when a state is unable or unwilling to mete out justice. “Help me and others in prison to get out of the chains of Congolese injustice,” he pleaded. The judges did not respond to Mr. Longa’s plea because it is not relevant to the case they are considering.

The day ended with a brief discussion on the timetable for completing the trial. Judge Adrian Fulford advised the parties that evidence should be concluded by April 15, 2011, followed by six weeks for the prosecution to make written submissions and another six weeks for the defense to make its submissions. The judges anticipate relying on written submissions for the most part to reach their decision, but, recognizing the public interest in the trial, each party (including the victims’ legal representatives) will be allowed a half day to address the court orally. Judge Fulford said it was a tentative timetable, inviting reaction from the parties. Defense counsel brought the court’s attention to the fact that they must respond to the legal representatives as well as the prosecution. To do that, they should be granted more time and more pages for their written submission than the other parties. The judges will suggest a revised timetable next week.

The trial resumes Monday morning, April 4, for the prosecution to complete its cross-examination of Mr. Longa.