This report covers testimony from October 27 – November 11, 2011 in the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui.
After two years, the trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo is ending. The last witness, accused Mathieu Ngudjolo, has completed his testimony. Now that witness testimony has concluded, the Judges will decide whether they will take a trip to the Ituri region for additional fact-finding before retiring to deliberate and render their judgment.
The conclusion of Ngudjolo’s testimony marks a historic moment for the ICC. This is the first trial before the court in which the accused have testified in their own defense.
The conclusion of the Katanga-Ngudjolo trial is also significant as it is only the second trial to conclude before the ICC. The trial of Thomas Lubanga, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), which also concerned crimes committed during the Ituri conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), concluded earlier this year.
Katanga and Ngudjolo face accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity arising out of an attack on the village of Bogoro, in Ituri, DRC. According to the prosecution, Katanga, alleged commander of the Ngiti armed group, Ituri Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI), and Ngudjolo, alleged leader of the Lendu armed group, Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI), planned and carried out the attack against the primarily Hema population of Bogoro. They deny all counts.
Ngudjolo took the stand to testify in his own defense after his co-accused, Katanga, completed his testimony last month. Ngudjolo testified that he had been a nurse and healthcare worker during most of the conflict, and was unassociated with the FNI until after the Bogoro attack. On the day of the attack, February 24, 2003, Ngudjolo said he was in Zumbe helping a woman give birth.
The details of his testimony are described below.
Medical and Police Training
Ngudjolo testified that he received training as a first-aid nurse with the Red Cross from 1990 to 1992. In the mid-1990s, he received nine months’ training as a civil guard, he testified. He said he later went on to study at the Institute for Technical Medicine in Bunia.
He was in Bunia training as a nurse when the conflict started, he said. He testified that he fled Bunia for his village in the Ezekere groupement on August 14, 2002, and lived there until March 6, 2003.
Flight from Bunia
According to the witness, he left Bunia after the fall of Governor Lopondo. On August 7, armed men came to his house, he said, intending to attack him because he was a Lendu. Ngudjolo fled, he said, and he and “Floribert” (likely Floribert Njabu, who was later elected President of the FNI) eventually ended up at the governor’s compound and Dr. Adirodu’s home (other witnesses have testified that Dr. Adirodu was the founder of the FRPI).
Ngudjolo testified that he fled Bunia with the governor and others on August 8. They went first to Songolo, and then Ngudjolo eventually went to Zumbe, he said.
Origins of the Conflict
Ngudjolo claimed that the fighting in Ituri began over a property dispute between an Alur man, Mr. Uguaro, and the Lendu people. It eventually morphed into a conflict between the Bira and Ngiti, he said, and then continued between the Ngali and the Hema. The ethnic fighting was compounded by the rebellion that was underway, and the use of Ugandans to intervene in the ethnic fighting, Ngudjolo explained.
The security situation began to deteriorate in 1999 with the start of war in the north of the DRC, Ngudjolo testified. The conflict eventually moved south, he said. Ngudjolo stated that in 2000, the situation was unstable and continued to deteriorate until Lopondo was driven out of Bunia in August 2002.
Towards the end of his direct examination, Ngudjolo accused the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defense Force, the national army of Uganda) of starting the ethnic conflict between the Lendu and the Hema. At the time of the attack on Bunia, he said, the UPDF and the UPC were allies.
Presence of Ugandans in Ituri
Ngudjolo described attacks in the Ituri region that occurred in early 2001. He explained how Ugandan helicopters shelled Zumbe on January 10 and how members of the “APC Hema” committed other atrocities.
According to Ngudjolo, the Ugandans were governing Ituri at the time. Indeed, it was the Ugandans who had made Ituri a province, he said.
“The [Congolese] state no longer existed,” he said. “Since 1998, when the war in the DRC started, the state no longer administered the east part of the DRC. All that part was in the hands of the Ugandans, the Rwandans and people from Burundi,” Ngudjolo testified. “And Ituri was in the hands of the Ugandans.”
According to Ngudjolo, the Ugandan and Congolese governments were enemies.
“The Ugandan government supported a rebellion against the Kinshasa government, so all the rebel groups who were operating in the east were supported on the one hand by the Ugandans and on the other by the Rwanda against the Kinshasa government,” he said.
However, later in his testimony, Ngudjolo accused the Congolese and Ugandan governments of colluding to plan the attack on Bogoro.
He accused the Ugandans of pillaging natural resources from Ituri, including gold, cattle, and lumber.
The population of Ituri was not happy with the Ugandan presence, and this is why there was a war, he said. The Lendu community was the first to revolt, and later even the Hema revolted, he claimed.
Creation of the Zumbe Self-Defense Group
Ngudjolo said that in order to protect themselves from the Ugandans, the chief of his groupement organized a self-defense committee so the population could defend itself. The population used “bladed weapons” to defend themselves against the Ugandans, he testified.
Ngudjolo insisted that the committee of young people created for self-defense of the village only accepted people “older than 18 years, that is someone who had attained the age of majority, who was fit and capable of fighting.” He denied that there were child soldiers in Zumbe.
He also denied that there were military camps or soldiers in Zumbe. Like Katanga, Ngudjolo carefully distinguished between local self-defense groups and political and military armed groups.
“It is possible for a civilian to be armed, but he is still a civilian even though he is bearing a weapon. He is not a soldier,” Ngudjolo told the Judges.
Day of the Bogoro Attack
Ngudjolo claimed that he was working as a nurse in Zumbe and was not associated with the FNI at the time of the Bogoro attack.
He had set up the Kambutso Health Center in his area, he said. On the day of the Bogoro attack, February 24, 2003, he was at the health center helping a woman give birth, he testified. He said that he arrived at the health center at 5:00 a.m. and stayed until late in the evening. He said that although he could hear gunfire coming from Bogoro, he did not know what was happening.
The FNI and FRPI
According to Ngudjolo, the FNI was not present in the Ezekere groupement at the time of the Bogoro attack. He claimed that he did not learn of the FNI until March 18, 2003, when he met with Floribert Njabu, President of the FNI. Ngudjolo said that Njabu asked him to get involved with the organization. On March 22, 2003, he said, he was appointed as Deputy Chief in charge of FNI operations. However, the group was quickly integrated into the national army, the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) at the end of the month. Therefore, he testified, he did not carry out any military operations.
Although the prosecution alleges that the FNI and FRPI jointly planned the attack on Bogoro, Ngudjolo claimed that the FNI and FRPI did not establish an alliance until March 2003, after the attack.
He first met Katanga on March 8, 2003 in Dele, he said. However, he said that the never had a chance to work together because their respective groups had very autonomous structures and it was difficult to operationalize the alliance.
The FNI/FRPI Alliance
The prosecution also questioned Ngudjolo about how he joined the FNI/FRPI.
Ngudjolo testified that Floribert Njabu appointed him as the deputy chief in charge of operations of the FNI/FRPI on March 22, 2003. He claimed that Njabu knew him from his days training with the civil guard. Ngudjolo denied the prosecution’s suggestion that Njabu selected him, along with other commanders of militia groups, because Ngudjolo was the chief of the FNI combatants in the Ezekere groupement.
Ngudjolo explained that the alliance’s armed wing was the FRPI, which was based in Walendu Bindi. The leadership of the FRPI armed wing was based in Beni, he explained. However, Ngudjolo said that he could not comment on how this structure functioned because the alliance was quickly integrated into the national armed forces.
Although some members of the self-defense group from the Ezekere groupement were integrated into the FNI/FRPI alliance, some remained with their group, Ngudjolo explained.
Relationship with Dr. Adirodu
The prosecution also asked Ngudjolo about his relationship with Dr. Adirodu. Ngudjolo had testified that after his house in Bunia was attacked, he fled to Dr. Adirodu’s house before leaving Bunia. Ngudjolo explained on cross-examination that Dr. Adirodu was the Chief Medical Officer in Bunia, and a member of the RCD-K/ML (Congolese Rally for Democracy – Liberation Movement). However, Ngudjolo claimed, he never spoke about the political situation in Ituri with Adirodu.
No Interest in Attacking Bogoro
Speaking about the Bogoro attack, Ngudjolo claimed that the people of his groupement did not participate in the attack because they had no interest in Bogoro. Rather, he said, they had more interests in Bunia for supplies and business relations. This implies that there was no incentive for the Zumbe self-defense group to attack Bogoro.
Child Soldiers and Crimes Committed During the Bogoro Attack
During cross-examination, Ngudjolo denied that there were armed groups in the Ezekere groupement. He also denied that he had used child soldiers and alleged that this phenomenon was brought to the DRC by Joseph Kabila. The prosecution showed Ngudjolo a photo of a child holding a weapon, alleging that it was taken in Ngudjolo’s presence. He denied recognizing the photo, and protested that he should not be convicted based on a photograph he did not recognize.
Ngudjolo also testified that he had never witnessed a rape or sexual assault during the conflict.
Ngudjolo’s Role in the FNI/FRPI
The prosecution showed a video in which Ngudjolo spoke about his role as a liaison with the civilians in Bunia. Ngudjolo said that he went to Bogoro to deal with the problem of hostages and to pass on the general’s commands to allow free access to vehicles and to stop arresting people.
Cessation of Hostilities Agreement
Ngudjolo had testified during his direct examination that he signed a cessation of hostilities agreement as a “representative of the Lendu people.” He testified that he signed on the same day he joined the FNI/FRPI alliance, March 18, 2003, but before he was appointed as a Colonel (which he testified happened on March 22, 2003). He signed simply because there was no one else to represent the Lendu community, he testified. He later testified that he signed in place of Chief Manu.
Legal Representatives for Victims
The legal representative for child soldier victims asked Ngudjolo how he would define “child soldier.”
“A child who is less than 18 years old who is enrolled in an armed force who bears a weapon and who has become a soldier,” Ngudjolo replied.
The legal representative attempted to clarify the meaning, suggesting that child soldiers were those who were under 15 and who were members of an armed force, whether or not they carried a weapon.
Ngudjolo maintained his core distinction between civilians and soldiers, claiming that to be a soldier, one must receive military training. A civilian who has not received training but who carries a weapon is still a civilian, he said.
“Even a child who is less than 15 years old who carries a weapon but who has not received military training is a civilian child but who is carrying a weapon,” Ngudjolo testified.
Ngudjolo again denied that there were child soldiers in Zumbe.
The legal representative for child soldiers asked whether Ngudjolo saw any armed group, whether militia or self-defense group, with children who were obviously less than 15 years old. Ngudjolo responded that there was a problem with perception, as many ethnic groups have people who are smaller in stature than other ethnic groups. He admitted that while you could often tell a person was a minor, you could not determine their precise age unless you spoke to the person’s parents.
A MONUC report presented by the legal representative for victims claimed that the FNI/FRPI trained child soldiers, and that Zumbe was a regular training site. Ngudjolo flatly denied that this was true. He said that there was no training center in the Ezekere groupement. However, he testified that in Ezekere, there were young people who had weapons and Chief Manu took them to the demobilization center.
The legal representative for victims of the Bogoro attack questioned Ngudjolo about his claim that the people of the Ezekere groupement had no interest in attacking Bogoro. Ngudjolo testified that there were no ties between the people of his groupement and Bogoro, and maintained that there was no motive for attacking the village.
Questions from the Judges
The Presiding Judge began by asking Ngudjolo to clarify his testimony about the ethnic conflict in Ituri. Ngudjolo testified that although there were conflicts over land, causing the DRC government in Kinshasa to intervene, the Hema and Lendu people had lived in peace and harmony for many years.
The Judge also asked whether Bahati de Zumbe, a nurse, or any other nurses or medical staff, belonged to any self-defense groups. Ngudjolo responded that in Zumbe, Bahati de Zumbe was not a member of the self-defense group. He said it would have been difficult for other health workers to be members of the self-defense group, because there were so many medical activities going on.
Ngudjolo admitted that he trained some members of the self-defense groups to provide basic medical treatment in case of injuries during fighting.
The Presiding Judge asked Ngudjolo about the exact role of the Ugandans in planning the attack on Bogoro. Ngudjolo said that he had been told that the Ugandan and Congolese presidents met and made an agreement to restore peace to Ituri. This is why the Ugandans were involved in the Bogoro attack, Ngudjolo claimed.
“If there hadn’t been an agreement between the two parties, the Kinshasa government would not have come to Bogoro and been involved in the battle” because at that time the UPC and UPDF no longer got along, he said.
Ngudjolo also clarified exactly what he was trained on during his civil guard training. He was trained as a police officer, to use light weapons (including the AK-47), tear gas bombs, and in military regulations. It was standard police training, he said.
The Bench also questioned Ngudjolo about his appointment in the FNI/FRPI. In particular, the Judge asked why Ngudjolo thought Njabu, the FNI President, appointed him as chief of general staff in charge of operations, and not administration, if he had been a health care professional. Ngudjolo explained that because of his civil guard training, he knew military structures and could help Njabu that way.