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Witness Insists Thomas Lubanga Was Not A Military Leader

Prosecutor Olivia Struyven cross-examined militia leader Bede Djokaba Lambi Longa, who has been testifying for four days in the trial of Thomas Lubanga. Mr. Lubanga is charged with recruiting, conscripting, and using child soldiers in the Ituri Region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2002 and 2003. Ms. Struyven’s line of questioning was aimed at eliciting the witness’s agreement that the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) was a military as well as political movement, and that Thomas Lubanga was both a political and military leader. Mr. Longa insisted it was not true.

In 2000, a group of officers and soldiers from within the Congolese People’s Army (APC, the military wing of the Congolese Rally for Democracy – Kisangani Liberation Movement (RCD-K-ML)) mutinied. Mr. Longa testified about the fear of instability should the mutineers attack the town of Bunia. Mr. Lubanga went with a delegation of prominent people from the area to Uganda, which was then occupying the region, to urge them to dissuade the mutineers from attacks on the town. The witness insisted that Mr. Lubanga did not represent the mutineers, though in August they decided to give him control over Ituri. Though the mutineers were flown to Uganda for training, he said he did not know if they received it, suggesting the prosecution would have to ask the Ugandans about that. Mr. Longa denied firsthand knowledge of the events, stating he got his information from the media.

The UPC was created in September 2000, according to the witness, but there was no link between that and the mutiny. One of the mutineers, Floribert Kisembo, became the UPC militia’s chief of staff. A good number of others turned up in the UPC as well.

The prosecution attempted to question Mr. Longa about a number of documents it served on defense counsel on the weekend. Ms. Struyven explained that they had only obtained the documents after the close of the prosecution’s case. Moreover, until recently they did not seem relevant. Nevertheless, the late disclosure prevented defense counsel from discussing the documents with their client. While allowing the prosecution to proceed, Judge Adrian Fulford granted the defense time to confer with Mr. Lubanga about the documents tomorrow afternoon. Presentation of the documents today was confusing and prompted Judge Fulford to intervene repeatedly to keep cross-examination within appropriate limits.

One such document was the transcript of a radio message by Thomas Lubanga in September 2002, where he is quoted as saying, “The combat which we started since 2000 has always been misunderstood either through bad faith or ignorance.” He goes on to say that “we” have reacted by starting a mutiny and have created the UPC. Despite Mr. Longa’s admission that he had heard the broadcast, he could not verify its contents. Nor could he understand why Mr. Lubanga said they had engaged in mutiny because Mr. Lubanga was not a soldier.

Ms. Struyven took the witness through lists of names on various documents attempting to show that the same people were involved in the various manifestations of the UPC, both political and military. Though he agreed that many of them were UPC members at one time or another, he insisted that the UPC was organized for peace and reconciliation. If the radio transcript can be verified, Mr. Longa’s insistence on Mr. Lubanga’s and the UPC’s peaceful objectives will not hold much weight.

Another document that caused difficulty was a public declaration made by the UPC on April 17, 2002, which the witness agreed was a key moment in the history of the UPC, so important that it was referred to in all decrees later on. The document was not translated into French, which Mr. Longa speaks, so he was unable to say much about the document itself. The judge allowed the prosecutor to question him using the declaration’s content but with free-standing questions. According to the witness, the document declared the separation of the UPC from the RCD-K-ML. That did not require military action by the UPC, he insisted. Rather, they convinced Uganda to do that for them. The declaration was not made public, Mr. Longa testified, but it was sent to Uganda who was the intended recipient all along.

Cross-examination of Mr. Longa will resume tomorrow morning.