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Ntaganda’s Lawyers Seek Impeachment of Witness Who Says Militia Commanders Raped Her

Defense lawyers are trying to impeach a prosecution witness in the trial of Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC). For five days, the witness has testified about having served as a child soldier in the militia Ntaganda allegedly commanded. She also testified about Ntaganda’s role in committing atrocities, and the rape of child soldiers—including herself—by militia commanders.

Defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon has cast doubt on the credibility of Witness P-010 and sought to tender into evidence several documents to support her impeachment. The prosecution did not oppose admission of the documentary evidence.

At the start of the hearing on November 16, Bourgon suggested to the witness that a short soldier seen in a video loading guns onto a pickup truck after Ntaganda visited the Rwampara militia training camp was not a child soldier. However, Witness P-010 said she knew that soldier and at the time he was a child soldier and younger than herself. The witness has previously told court that she was abducted and conscripted into the FPLC in 2002 at the age of 13.

Bourgon claimed the soldier in question was named Zakayo and he was 20-years-old at the time. Subsequent questioning about this soldier was conducted in closed session. Redirect examination of Witness P-010 was conducted entirely in closed session.

On November 13, Witness P-010 denied having been a member of the Congolese Popular Army (APC), a rival militia to the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) in which Ntaganda was deputy chief of staff.  “I was never an APC soldier,” she said. The defense had told the witness that a song which she claimed was sung by the FPLC to boost fighters’ morale was in fact sung by the rival APC militia. “That’s not true,” she responded.

In March 2009, Witness P-010 testified for the prosecution in the trial of Thomas Lubanga, the former FPLC commander-in-chief. During that trial, she also denied defense suggestions that she had been a member of the APC militia before joining the Lubanga group.

In the Lubanga judgment, judges found that they could not rely on “many aspects” of Witness P-010’s testimony due to contradictions between her testimony and documentary evidence regarding her age at the time of the events. They withdrew her status as a victim participating in the Lubanga trial.

Last week, Bourgon said Witness P-010 had made new claims in order to regain victim status. He said what she stated in her application to participate in the Ntaganda trial was “light years farther from what she said before” during her initial application and testimony of 2009. Trial lawyer Nicole Samson clarified that, “given certain findings in the Lubanga decision and because of some documentary evidence that she may have been 17” years at the time she served with the FPLC, the prosecution was not relying on Witness P-010 as a person who was under 15 at the time.

Ntaganda is charged with direct perpetration, indirect co-perpetration, and inducing of several crimes including murder, attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, forced transfer of the population, displacement of civilians, attacks against protected objects, pillaging, destruction of property, and use of child soldiers.

On her first day of appearance, Witness P-010 failed to respond to questions put to her by the prosecution. Despite being shielded from Ntaganda in the court room, she expressed concerns about being in the same room as the accused. Ntaganda has since agreed to leave the courtroom and is following the proceedings remotely.

Hearings in the trial are scheduled to continue throughout this week.