On the second day of his appearance, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo’s personal secretary testified that using children in military actions was against Mr. Lubanga’s values. He simply never would have done it. Michel Angayika Baba said he was nearly continually with Mr. Lubanga from September 2002 until May 2003 and never saw any minors in Mr. Lubanga’s bodyguard or among his entourage.
Mr. Lubang is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), charged with the war crimes of recruitment, conscription and use of child soldiers in 2002 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In response to questions by defense counsel, Mr. Baba stated that he and Mr. Lubanga noticed the presence of children among forces of the Party for Unity and Safeguarding of the Integrity of Congo (PUSIC), commanded by Chief Kahwa at a rally following the FPLC’s retaking Bunia from the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) in May 2003. They were dressed partly in military uniforms and carried weapons. He explained that the children were armed by the UPDF for self-defense when it fled the territory. At that time, PUSIC was working with the UPDF, but soon joined the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the military arm of Mr. Lubanga’s organization.
President Lubanga issued an emergency decree ordering their demobilization, the witness said. He asserted that the order was implemented and that the Catholic nongovernmental organization Caritas was directed to assure the children’s reintegration into the community.
Prosecutor Manoj Sachdeva pressed the witness to disclose the presence of children with the FPLC in the interior. Mr. Baba agreed but explained the children sought out soldiers to get food and protection and viewed them as father figures. They would ask for jackets and trousers. In return, the children would be asked to transport military equipment. They were not trained to be soldiers, Mr. Baba emphasized. He did not know of any FPLC procedure to verify the ages of soldiers.
Mr. Sachdeva presented a document dated February 12, 2003, to support his submission that the FPLC used children as soldiers. In it the National Secretary for Education and Youth informed the G-5 Commander of the FPLC in Bunia that child soldiers between the ages of 10 and 15 and 16 who were willing to return to civilian life were to be demobilized and disarmed. The document was copied to President Lubanga. Mr. Baba responded that the demobilization program applied to everyone and was an international program for the region, including Rwanda and Burundi, not just the DRC. Mr. Sachdeva pointed out that the document stated the program was restricted to child soldiers from 10 to 16 years of age who were willing to demobilize, implying that children who were not so willing could remain in the FPLC. The witness did not know why the National Secretary had written that restriction in the document and insisted the program applied to everyone. Nor would Mr. Baba agree that Mr. Lubanga had canceled the program, as suggested by Mr. Sachdeva.
The prosecutor questioned the witness about a rally allegedly held by Mr. Lubanga on February 12, 2003 to boost the morale of the troops at a time when major battles were occurring. Mr. Sachdeva suggested this showed demobilization was the last thing the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) could afford to do. Mr. Baba did not remember the event. Though the prosecutor reminded him of his earlier testimony that he was nearly always with Mr. Lubanga during this period, and that, as his private secretary, he maintained his schedule. Mr. Baba insisted he did not know about the rally.
Mr. Sachdeva questioned the witness about complaints made by the United Nations and other international organizations to Mr. Lubanga about the recruitment of child soldiers. Mr. Baba responded he was aware of complaints but dismissed them, saying rebel movements are normally criticized in order to give them a bad name.
Confronted with a report, broadcast on UN Military Observer Mission in Congo’s (MONUC) radio on February 7, 2003, to the effect that Mr. Lubanga had demanded every family under his control volunteer a child to assist with the UPC’s military goal, the witness said it was possible but he could not remember. Nor could he remember that Mr. Lubanga complained he was never informed that the UPC could not recruit children, as suggested by the prosecutor.
Mr. Baba’s cross-examination will resume Tuesday morning.