This report covers testimony from October 10 – 21, 2011 in the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui.
The first-ever ICC defendant to take the stand in his own defense has concluded his testimony. Germain Katanga completed his testimony after being cross-examined by the prosecution and answering questions from the legal representatives for victims and the judges. On Thursday, October 27, Katanga’s co-accused, Mathieu Ngudjolo, will take the stand, likely the last witness to appear in this trial.
Katanga and Ngudjolo are accused of crimes war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during an attack on the village of Bogoro in eastern Ituri, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The prosecution alleges that Katanga was the leader of the FRPI (the Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri) and, together with Ngudjolo, the alleged leader of the FNI (the Nationalist and Integrationist Front), carried out an attack on Bogoro on February 24, 2003. Both men have pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The attack was part of a larger conflict in the DRC. According to Germain Katanga, the government of the DRC and other armed groups, like the APC (the Congolese People’s Army) were behind the attack on Bogoro, he said. Katanga said that the APC planned and ordered the Bogoro attack in order to wipe out the UPC (Union of Congolese Patriots) military base there. He claimed this was for strategic military reasons and that the government of the DRC assisted in arming the APC.
He claimed that local combatant groups, like the group from his village of Aveba, were fighting in defense of their villages.
Katanga also diminished the ethnic dimension to the conflict, whereas the prosecution has made this a central focus of their case. The prosecution argues that the FRPI, a largely Ngiti force, and the FNI, a largely Lendu force, wanted to “wipe out” the village of Bogoro and its primarily Hema population. Katanga denied this.
The prosecution tested Katanga’s evidence during cross-examination. The prosecution began its cross-examination by asking Katanga about the ethnic aspects of the conflict, one of the central issues of the prosecution case.
Katanga testified that attacks by the UPC (a largely Hema militia) were not ethnically motivated but were targeting APC military bases.
The prosecution suggested that Katanga was deliberately misleading the chamber when he discussed the APC. In particular, the prosecution alleged that Katanga was lying about APC leader Blaise Koka being in Aveba just before the Bogoro attack. The prosecution also suggested that the APC soldiers that were in Aveba were Ngitis who had deserted the APC forces.
Katanga denied these assertions. However, Katanga stuck to his testimony that the targets of the attacks were military, and not ethnically motivated. He admitted that while there could have been some ethnically motivated attacks, this was not the central cause of the conflict.
In fact, according to Katanga, many Hema refugees fled Bogoro and went to Aveba, where they were protected and not turned away by Aveba’s largely Ngiti population.
The prosecution also asked Katanga about crimes that were allegedly committed during the attack on Bogoro. Katanga admitted that civilians were killed during the conflict in Ituri, including the February 24 attack on Bogoro.
However, he testified, the APC was a professional army, and the soldiers did not intentionally target civilians. Some civilians were killed as collateral damage, he said, but he wondered why there were so many civilian deaths, given that the commanders were professional soldiers.
Answering prosecution questions about child soldiers, Katanga said that the combatants were happy to help the children who were living in the military camps without family members.
He said that soldiers would go to the demobilization transit centers with the children from the camps so the children could demobilize. The combatants called the children “child soldiers” so that they could qualify for demobilization, he said. However, he denied that children at the base in Aveba received military training and claimed that the children were not considered combatants.
He explained how the combatants gave Karido, a child living in the camp, an AK47 so that he could demobilize.
“A person needed to have a weapon in order to demobilize,” he explained.
He described how demobilizing children could take AK47s to the transit center and be given $150. “You could take all these AK-47s, turn them in, get the money,” he said.
The prosecution asked whether children received kits or $150 cash. Previous witnesses, including Katanga defense witnesses, have testified about children receiving demobilization “kits,” containing blankets, clothing, and other supplies.
Katanga said that the official position was that children were to receive kits, not money. However, Katanga claimed that the situation on the ground was different, implying that in practice, the children received money.
February 24th Attack on Bogoro
Katanga reiterated on cross-examination that the APC planned the February 24, 2003 attack on Bogoro. He said he did not participate in the attack and was in Aveba at the time.
Katanga testified that he could not leave Aveba to attack Bogoro on the 24th because they were afraid that Kisoro, another local commander, would attack Aveba.
Katanga said that it was not until March 3 that he finally realized Kisoro was not a threat. However, Katanga testified that he left Aveba on at least two other occasions between the 24th and March 3, while he thought Aveba was still under threat of attack from Kisoro. He testified that he had gone to Kagaba for information just after the attack, on February 26, and then went to Tchey on March 3. It was in Tchey that he saw Kisoro and realized that Aveba was no longer at risk of attack.
The prosecution tested this story, asking Katanga why he could travel to Kagaba for information just after the attack if he thought Kisoro was still a threat. Katanga replied that there was a distinction between going away for a short while and goingaway to the front. The Presiding Judge asked if this distinction was the reason Katanga could leave Aveba on March 3 for Tchey even though he could not go to Bogoro on the 24th. Katanga responded that he had intended to go to Tchey for only the day but decided to stay once he saw Kisoro there and realized Aveba would be safe.
He again testified that the APC planned the attack.
Control Over Aveba Combatants
During cross-examination, the prosecution presented a letter written by Kasaki Bandro, a wise man and spiritual leader in Aveba. The letter was dated February 9, 2003, and was addressed to “Mr. President.” Kasaki requested the “President’s” help in controlling the combatants during a planned cattle market.
The prosecution suggested that the letter was in fact addressed to Katanga and alleged that Katanga was in command of all combatants in Aveba as of early February, 2003.
Katanga denied that this was true. He said that he had never seen the letter before and that there was no proof it was addressed to him.
Questions from Legal Representatives for Victims
The legal representatives for both groups of victims—child soldiers and victims of the attack—also questioned Katanga.
Responding to questions from the legal representative for child soldiers, Katanga reiterated his previous testimony that there were no child soldiers in the Aveba military camp. Children with nowhere else to go could remain in the camp with their families, he said, but they did not recruit nor train children.
Addressing the February 24 attack, Katanga said that he had not heard of children present on the battlefield that day.
The legal representative for victims of the Bogoro attack asked Katanga about crimes committed during the attack. Katanga testified that the commanders involved in the attack had not told him about a civilian massacre but admitted that he had heard about civilian deaths from the news. However, he claimed that although there were deaths, he was not sure it could be classified as a “massacre.”
Katanga also denied that looting had taken place. He claimed that after the attack, Ngiti went back to Bogoro to recover their goods and property they had left behind when they fled.
Questions from the Judges
Aveba Command Structure
The judges questioned Katanga at length. In particular, the judges asked many questions about the command structure in the Aveba community, the role of the APC in Aveba, and Katanga’s role as “Coordinator.”
Kakado was at the top of the Walendu-Bindi hierarchy, and Kasaki was next, Katanga explained. Katanga explained that Kasaki had a great deal of authority. Katanga testified that he served as one of Kasaki’s many bodyguards, and was greatly trusted by Kasaki.
Kasaki had authority over the local commanders in the Walendu-Bindi area, Katanga said. If anyone disobeyed Kasaki, Kasaki would take away the person’s fetishes, deprive him of treatment, and the person would “die without any further assistance,” Katanga said.
Katanga also testified that he was generally obligated to obey Kasaki, but that with Kasaki’s support, could go against an order of APC-commander Blaise Koka.
The judges asked Katanga about the presence of the APC in Aveba. Aveba was a “logistics base” for the APC, Katanga said, while other areas, such as Kagaba and Singo, had a significant number of APC soldiers. Katanga said that he would travel with Blaise Koka when Koka went to visit other APC commanders.
Katanga clarified his various positions within Aveba: bodyguard to Kasaki, commander of Aveba, and then coordinator of Aveba. Katanga said that as coordinator, he acted as a liaison between the professional APC soldiers and the local combatants. In particular, he had to intervene in case of disputes or conflicts between the combatants and soldiers.
“The position of coordinator was simply to avoid sparks and skirmishes and to enable people to live in a congenial atmosphere,” he testified.
Katanga testified that he had a group of about 60 men that were loyal to him. The judges wanted to know whether these men were recruited and whether they had any formal structures. According to Katanga, the men simply came to him—he did not recruit them. However, he did testify that the men were loosely organized into sections.
The commander of Aveba did not have control over other commanders, Katanga said.
“No one had authority over anyone else on his turf. I was a chief in my area and others were chiefs in their areas,” he said.
Although throughout his testimony Katanga had consistently downplayed the ethnic aspects of the conflict, he did admit to the judges that there were various ethnic tensions in Ituri at the time. In particular, he testified that the UPC, supported by the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defense Forces) and the Rwandan Army, started to fight the Lendus in Ituri in an effort to create a “Hima-Tutsi Empire.”[i] According to Katanga, the plan to create the Hima-Tutsi Empire involved removing the Lendus from their native land.
Katanga also admitted to the Judges that at times, combatants in his collectivity did not obey the rules of conduct that forbade them from targeting civilians. This was especially the case after they witnessed the death of their families, he said. Katanga acknowledged that on many occasions, he had to warn Lendu combatants not to threaten Hema civilians.
Knowledge of the Bogoro Attack
Katanga knew that there was a plan to attack Bogoro and Bunia in February and March of 2003, he said. The plan had been in the works since November 2002, he said, and the operation was defined on paper.
“Everything was planned, your honor. Even reinforcements for the health staff,” Katanga said. He stated that the plan was very elaborate, and involved a real hierarchy, and details down to the men, uniforms, weapons, and rations.
His role as coordinator involved organizing the distribution of ammunition to the combatants and being the center of communications, to ensure that the combatants would be in a position to reinforce the APC soldiers.
The Presiding Judge pushed further, asking, “You were informed because the means of communication were with you, but did you have a specific role that was planned for you?”
“As part of community life, to ensure peace, I provided minimum service, I could provide that service if they asked for it,” Katanga replied.
This evidence could help the judges decide whether Katanga is guilty as a co-perpetrator and whether his role in the February 24 Bogoro attack was critical to the success of the attack.
[i] The Hima-Tutsi are a subset of the Tutsi ethnic group. There is also an ethnic group called “Hima” from Uganda, said to be related to the Tutsis from Rwanda. Laurant Kabila accused Paul Kagame (then Vice President of Rwanda) and Yoweri Museveni (President of Uganda) of plotting to build a Hima-Tutsi Empire in Central Africa. Gerard Prunier, who testified as a Prosecution expert in the Lubanga trial, testified before that trial chamber that the Hema ethnic group from the DRC tried to associate themselves closely with the Hima/Tutsi groups to gain political advantage after the Rwandan genocide.