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Former Child Soldier Is Shielded from Ntaganda’s View, but Fails to Testify

A former child soldier who says she was repeatedly raped by her commanders in the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) failed to testify on November 10, 2015 at the International Criminal Court, despite being sheilded from the view of the militia’s former deputy head, Bosco Ntaganda.

Witness P-010, who was granted full protective measures and had a support officer from the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) alongside her in the courtroom, consistently failed to answer questions put to her by the prosection. This caused numerous breaks in the hearing, following which the VWU official stated that the witness had said she was unable to testify in the same room where Ntaganda was.

“She told me that she is in a complicated situation,” said the official. “She finds herself in one and the same same room as the accused and that’s a problem for her. Yesterday she was of the opinion she didn’t want to come to the courtroom.”

The official suggested that the witness should instead testify by video-link, away from the courtroom where the accused was seated. This was supported by trial lawyer Nicole Samson, who noted that the witness was experiencing difficulties in testimony regarding Ntaganda and was not concentrating on the qustions put to her. Defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon opposed. “She can’t see him,” he said. “I can’t see how this is what is preventing her from giving responses.”

Witness P-010, who says she was conscripted into the FPLC at the age of 13, first testified before the court in 2009 in the trial of Thomas Lubanga, the group’s former commander-in-chief who is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence over the recruitment and use of child soldiers in armed conflict.

However, on November 6, 2015, judges in the Ntaganda trial declined a prosecution request to admit into evidence her testimony from the Lubanga trial. They found that the prosecution’s proposal to limit its examination of the witness in court to only information necessary to prove its case against Ntaganda was not in the interest of justice.

According to the judges, regardless of whether or not the prior recorded testimony was admitted, it would not save time during questioning or “effectively limit any re-traumatization” of the witness. Furthermore, the judges noted that in the Lubanga case, Witness P-010’s testimony raised “credibility issues,” for which the defense was likely to need “more extensive cross-examination.”

Ntaganda’s lawyers opposed the prosecution’s request. Among the reasons advanced by the defense for hearing the witness’s testimony in its entirerity was “its central importance” to issues of dispute in the case.

Sarah Pellet, the lawyer for former child soldiers participating in the trial as victims, supported admitting the previous testimony of Witness P-010. She said this would limit the risk of re-traumatization of the witness who already testified at length in the Lubanga case.

In her 2009 testimony in the Lubanga case, the witness told the court that FPLC commanders routinely had forced sex with female recruits. She also stated that the militia commanders encouraged fighters to take drugs before going to fight, purportedly to give them courage, and those who showed signs of fear were put on the frontline of the battlefield. The witness also said recruits in Lubanga’s militia, some younger than 13 years of age, were subjected to brutal training and indoctrination at camps in Rwampara and Mandro.

The witness said she escaped from the militia after fighting in several towns, and became a street child because she had no home to go to. In addition, the witness stated that she was still affected by the drugs she took during her time with the militia and still felt pain in her leg after being shot during fighting against ethnic Lendu combatants.

However, on the stand in Ntaganda’s trial today, the witness said she could not remember anything about the accused giving her uniforms and a weapon, the names of villages where she fought, or the ethnic communities that lived in the villages where she fought.

At the time of her Lubanga testimony, defense lawyers sugegsted that Witness P-010 was an adult when she joined the FPLC militia in 2002, and that she had been a member of a rival militia since 1999. In the Lubanga judgement, judges stated that they could not rely on “many aspects” of her testimony due to contraditions in her testimony and the documentary evidence suggesting that she was under 15 years of age at the time of the events.

Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that were allegedly committed by himself and FPLC fighters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri district during an ethnic conflict in 2002 and 2003.

Judges adjourned hearings in the trial until Wednesday November 11, when the witness is expected to testify via video-link.