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Witness: There was only One “Real” Child Soldier in Aveba

This report covers testimony and legal issues that arose during the trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui before the International Criminal Court (ICC) from June 27 to July 12, 2011.

Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui face charges relating to crimes against humanity and war crimes arising out of an attack on Bogoro, a village in the Ituri region of eastern DRC, in February 2003. The accused deny all charges against them.

During this reporting period, the Katanga defense team called its final witnesses.

The witnesses who appeared before the court are:

  • Leondard Katobe Adisso (Witness 196)
  • Mugangu Awenya (Witness 259)
  • Jean Logo Ndegatchu (Witness 258)

Katanga and Ngudjolo are charged with using children under the age of fifteen to take active part in hostilities. In relation to this, Katobe and Augangu testified about a recurring theme in the Katanga defense case—that there were no child soldiers in Aveba and that the children processed by the Aveba demobilization center had not been child soldiers but were “demobilizing” in order to get the free supplies in the demobilization kit.

Logo, the Katanga defense team investigator, testified about his investigation process and about numerous pieces of documentary evidence.

The Katanga defense has now called all of its witnesses, except Germain Katanga himself. Katanga will testify after the Ngudjolo defense team has called its witnesses. The Ngudjolo defense case will begin when the ICC returns from summer recess on August 15, 2011.

Leondard Katobe Adisso (Witness 196)

Katobe worked for the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Terre des Enfants from 2001 to 2004, as a supervisor of unaccompanied children. Katobe testified that the goal of the organization was to demobilize child soldiers.

The witness testified that he worked at the Aveba transit site, which was established in November 2004 and functioned with the cooperation of several NGOs, including Terre des Enfants. He first went to Aveba between July and August 2004. The goal of this trip and two subsequent trips was to determine whether they would be received by Germain Katanga in Aveba, he said. Katobe testified that Katanga had a very good attitude about their meeting. He cooperated and did not “complicate things” for the NGO, Katobe said.

The site was set up directly after the third trip, in early November 2004, he said. According to Katobe, the transit site was built close to the militia camp. He described the physical layout of the property in detail.

Discussing the children that were processed at the demobilization center, Katobe, like other witnesses before him, testified that there was only one child soldier in Aveba.

“When they arrived, they found that apparently there were really no child soldiers,” he said. Katobe said that they only saw one case of a child soldier, on the first day. His name was Karido. Thereafter, he said, no children came to the demobilization center. They began to do outreach to find more children, he said. Otherwise, Katobe claimed, the NGO would have to leave.

Terre des Enfants established criteria in order to determine which children should be demobilized, the witness testified. However, he said that this criteria was not always complied with.

When children started arriving as a result of the outreach efforts, Katobe said that instead of doing things meticulously, the NGO did not ask the children many questions.

“We would simply ask them whether they had been in one group or another. The whole idea was just to increase the number of children. That’s it,” Katobe claimed.

During the outreach campaign, the NGO also visited schools. According to Katobe, the transit site accepted students, and he claimed that parents received information and sent their children to the transit center.

“They were told that if there were children who had been traumatized, especially by the war, such children could also come to the site and that they could benefit from kits at the site” he explained.

The outreach was done under the instruction and supervision of the NGO’s director, a man the witness called “Charles.”

The children were categorized into three different groups. There was only one child categorized as a “child soldier,” Katobe said. He testified that other children were called “EAFGA,” or “children associated with armed forces and groups.” These were children who had lived with militia members, he said. They may not have carried weapons, but they could have been relatives of militia members or children who were living in the camps who did small menial jobs, ran errands, fetched water, stood guard, or cared for cattle. There were also children who “were poor who wanted the demobilization kits. We considered those as ‘war traumatized children’,” the witness explained.

Of 952 children recorded who were at the site, the witness estimated that besides the one “real” child soldier, 10 percent (about 95 children) were EAFGA and the remaining 90 percent (about 856 children) were children who came from the various villages to get kits out of poverty. Katobe said that Charles considered that all of the children in the region had been affected by the conflict, they should all be received at the demobilization site.

In addition to Ngiti children, Katobe said there were also Hema children who came to the Aveba demobilization site as a result of Terre des Enfants’ outreach efforts. He said that these children had been members of the armed group in Boga, but he could not recall the name of this group.

There were also “pygmies” who came to the demobilization site from the forest, Katobe claimed. Charles had purportedly been teaching them how to read and told them to come to the site to receive demobilization kits. The witness said that they looked like children because of their height, but they were in fact adults.

Children who came to the demobilization site were asked which armed group they had come from, but since the children knew the different groups in the surrounding area, they could respond with whichever group was associated with their home village, he said. Katobe also testified that the children were asked about their age, but were not asked to produce identification or verify their age.

No follow-up was done with the children after they left the demobilization site, he said.

On cross-examination, the prosecution attempted to impeach the witness’ testimony through prior inconsistent statements. For example, the prosecution said that although he had testified about “traumatized” children, this term had not been mentioned in his previous statements given to the Katanga defense team. Katobe responded that he had developed this idea later and explained that by “traumatized,” he meant children that had been victims of war.

Mugangu Awenya (Witness 259)

Mr. Mugangu was born and raised in Aveba.  He has never had any association with any militia, he said.

In 2004, when he was about 17 years old, friends of his from school went to the demobilization site. Mugangu said that he did not know then what “demobilization” meant, but his friends told him they were asked about whether they were in a militia and then given kits with blankets, towels, bags, and clothes. He said that these friends were about his same age as he was.

Aveba was a small town, and he knew the children there quite well, Mugangu testified. He claimed that these children were living with their parents at the time and had no affiliation with the militia.

Mugangu said that members from an NGO came to the school and the football field to do outreach, telling the children that if they had been associated with a militia, they should come and get kits. This corroborates evidence of the previous witness.

“After hearing what my friends told me about the demobilization, I decided to have myself demobilized even though I was not a militia man,” the witness testified.

He said that he first arrived at the office of the NGO Save the Children and told them he was there to demobilize. He was then taken to CONADER (the DRC government demobilization group, Commission Nationale de Demobilisation et Reinsertion), he said. He gave a false identity, although he could not remember the age he told them he was. CONADER gave him a demobilization kit containing a blanket, towel, and a bag, he said.

On cross-examination, the witness admitted that he knows the Katanga family quite well. However, the witness did not agree that his family and the Katanga family were friends. He denied that he had spoken to Katanga’s brother Jonathan about the case, although he knew Jonathan.

Jean Logo Ndegatchu (Witness 258)

Mr. Logo, the final witness to testify in defense of Germain Katanga, is the investigator for the Katanga defense team. He testified that his primary role is to look for evidence that would help the Trial Chamber hand down a judgment.

The quality of the Katanga defense investigation has been a point of contention during the trial, with the prosecution regularly attempting to impeach Katanga defense witnesses by suggesting improprieties in the investigation process. Logo’s testimony could help rehabilitate this testimony. Moreover, Logo’s testimony allowed the Katanga defense to introduce numerous pieces of documentary evidence.

Logo, a Hema, testified that he had never been associated with a militia group, held a gun, or been involved in political parties or activities. He claimed that he was not in Ituri during the conflict, but had been based in Kinshasa at that time. However, he was a native of the Ituri region, he said, and had contacts there.

Logo described his investigation methodology. He said that when he applied an “objective and scientific” approach to his duties. He explained that he first used observation techniques, then developed a questionnaire and carried out interviews and discussions before doing a historical review, relying on documentary evidence. Finally, he would analyze the content of his research, he said.

Having made an arrangement to meet a potential witness, Logo said that he would first introduce himself as a resource person in the Katanga defense team. He would tell them that he needed to interview the person to gather information to help in the defense of Katanga. If the person agreed to be interviewed, he would start a discussion. He would go to somebody’s home, introduce himself and his task, and ask to have a discussion, he said. “I always had a notebook, and I would take notes and ask questions, and attach a photo of the person to the notes,” he explained. Logo said that he would report back to the defense team on his progress, and when the team arrived in the field, he would share his notes and put the potential witnesses in touch with team. If the potential witness was interviewed by a member of the legal team, Logo would serve as interpreter and an observer, he said. Logo testified that he would send the prepared statement to the witness, read it over with the witness to explain it and make any necessary adjustments. He said he would sign and initial the witness statements, as requested by his team.

Logo diminished his role in the investigative process, saying that the legal team would ask questions and write the witness statements. “For the most part, the investigating was done by the team members when they were there in the Congo,” he said.

The defense proceeded to ask Logo about specific documentary evidence and later moved to have these documents entered into the record.

On cross-examination, the prosecution asked the witness about how he was recruited to work on the Katanga defense team. Logo said that he had met Katanga before he joined his legal team, but claimed he was recruited by a member of the team, Caroline Buisman.

Logo said he went to Aveba for the first time in the context of his investigations in March 2008. Before then he had never been to Aveba. He said that he never had problems traveling to the region on his own. He said he had never been to the Walendu Bindi region before February 2008. The prosecutor suggested that he had never been there because he was Hema and it was dangerous. Logo said this was incorrect, and “you mustn’t give the court the impression … that is not so.”

The witness said he went to Bogoro several times alone and a few times with his team. During direct examination, the witness had implied that this could be dangerous. On cross-examination, he explained that some areas are dangerous because the FRPG militia is still active.

Also on cross-examination, the witness testified that he had met Katanga in 2005 and that they became friends. However, Logo said that he did not know at the time that Katanga was president of the FRPI (Force de Resistence Patriotique, the militia allegedly led by Katanga). Logo also said that he had been involved with the UPC (Union des Patriotes Congolais, a militia led by Thomas Lubanga, who is also on trial at the ICC). Logo admitted that he personally knew Thomas Lubanga.

Logo explained that he did not have any regular contact with Katanga directly and that he communicated about the investigation with the defense team.

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