Two former bodyguards to Thomas Lubanga have today told appeals judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that they were not child soldiers when they joined his militia.
Testifying at the appeals hearing for Mr. Lubanga, who was in 2012 convicted over the use of children under the age of 15, Augustin Mbogo Malobi and Justin Kpadhigo Logo gave dates of birth indicating that they were 19 and 18 years respectively at the time of joining the group.
However, the prosecution questioned the proof which the two witnesses provided, suggesting that the two individuals could not have been certain of their dates of birth.
Mr. Malobi and Mr. Logo testified via video link from the town of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo without any protective measures.
Defense lawyers Catherine Mabille and Jean-Marie Biju-Duval screened for the witnesses video clips, which were previously used by the prosecution to show young fighters alleged to be child soldiers, in the personal bodyguard of Mr. Lubanga.
The witnesses identified themselves from among a group of young soldiers shown in the videos. They also ascertained that the videos were filmed in Bunia while they served in the presidential guard of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).The witnesses also identified their voters’ cards, issued in 2006 and renewed in 2011, which the defense tendered as evidence.
In March 2012, Mr. Lubanga was found guilty of recruiting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and actively using them in an armed conflict in Congo’s Ituri province during 2002 and 2003. Trial judges at the ICC determined that Mr. Lubanga was the president and commander-in-chief of the UPC and its military wing and that he had child soldiers among his personal security detail.
However, in the verdict, the judges determined that nine individuals who testified that they had served as child soldiers lied about having been under-age fighters with the UPC, and their testimony was rejected. All nine testified against Mr. Lubanga.
Mr. Lubanga, who was handed a 14-year prison sentence, is appealing the conviction and the sentence. The prosecution has appealed to judges to increase the jail term.
Mr. Malobi said that he was born in 1983. He was shown two pictures with individuals, all of whom he identified by name and said they, including himself, constituted the members of Mr. Lubanga’s personal guard. He said the photograph was taken at Mr. Lubanga’s residence in Bunia by French peacekeepers.
He explained that the peacekeepers were disarming fighters, but Mr. Lubanga was authorized to have 11 armed bodyguards. “We were members of that guard unit. The photographs were taken in our residence,” said the witness.
Under cross-examination by prosecution lawyer Manoj Sachdeva, Mr. Malobi conceded that he had no birth certificate, and he did not know the ages of his brothers and sisters. He could not recall at what age he joined primary school.
“The only way you would know your age is from what you learnt when you joined primary school, is that right?” asked Mr. Sachdeva.
Mr. Malobi replied, “I don’t remember.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Logo stated that he was born in 1984 and joined the UPC in March of 2002. He said his mother told him his date of birth when he was beginning primary school and showed him a hospital document to the same effect.
He said he lived in Mr. Lubanga’s compound during the time he was one of his two initial bodyguards. He left UPC when Mr. Lubanga traveled to Uganda, from where he was transferred to the Congolese capital Kinshasa and later to The Hague.
Last January, appeals judges allowed Mr. Lubanga to add a new ground of appeal related to non-disclosure by the prosecutor to the accused of evidence that the defense deems exculpatory. The evidence, which comprises a list of names and photographs of UPC Presidential Guard members, is deemed relevant to the finding of the use of children under the age of 15 years in Mr. Lubanga’s personal guard.
The judges considered that this evidence by the defense related to the non-disclosure sought “to call into question the reliability of a considerable part of the findings upon which Mr. Lubanga’s conviction was based.”
The appeals hearing continues tomorrow with parties and participants to the trial addressing judges on issues related to the appeals. Mr. Lubanga is also expected to make an unsworn statement before the judges.