A prosecution witness has told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that girl child soldiers in the militia group commanded by Bosco Ntaganda served as bodyguards for the group’s high-ranking commanders and some of them had “involuntary sexual relations” with the commanders.
Making reference to a Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) camp located in Lalu, the witness, who is a former insider in the group, stated that girls as young as 12 years served in the personal escort of Brigade Commander Salumu Mulenda and a Battalion Commander known as Abelanga.
According to the insider, who goes by the pseudonym Witness P017, two girls in Abelanga’s personal escort were 12 or 13 years old, and besides their guard duties, they had sexual relations with the commander.
“Was it voluntary?” asked prosecution lawyer Diane Luping, referring to the sexual relations between the commander and the child soldiers.
“Given their age, I felt pity for them. I knew it couldn’t be voluntary given their age,” replied the witness.
“How do you know they were 12 or 13 years old?” asked Luping.
The witness responded: “Their physiology, the fact that they played [children’s games] and their [body] sizes. They looked like young boys because they didn’t have any breasts on their chests.”
Meanwhile, at the same Lalu camp, there were two other girls that guarded Commander Salumu’s house. Witness P017 described these girls as “older” with “more developed bodies,” with the youngest aged about 14 years.
The witness stated that the child soldiers in the UPC ranks at Lalu were “mostly boys,” the youngest of whom were 11 or 12 years old. He said the child soldiers were armed with Kalashnikov rifles and wore military uniforms.
Witness P017 could not estimate the number of child soldiers within the 11 and 12 years age range, but he stated that there were “many of them.”
Rape, sexual slavery, and the use of child soldiers under the age of 15 years in armed combat are among the 18 counts of war crimes and crime against humanity brought against Ntaganda at the ICC. The former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the armed wing of the UPC, is alleged to be criminally responsible for crimes committed against non-Hema civilians during ethnic conflict in Congo in 2002-2003.
Prosecutors charge that there was rape “at every offensive by the UPC” and that the group’s commanders participated in committing rape. According to the prosecution, Commander Salumu raped a witness, while Commander Abalenga was a “serial rapist.”
Witness P017 was granted in-court protective measures including image and voice distortion during public broadcasts of his evidence. Hearings also frequently went into closed session to avoid revealing information about his identity. Prior to the witness taking the stand, judges granted his request for assurances against self-incrimination during his testimony.
The prosecution will continue to question Witness P017 on Friday, January 29.