Today, a former member of a Congolese militia group recounted how his colleagues executed about 20 women and children shortly after the fighters had killed an unnamed number of men.
Testifying before the International Criminal Court (ICC), the former member of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) said troops from the group committed the murders during 2013 in the town of Kobu in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The former rebel is testifying in the trial of the group’s former top commander Bosco Ntaganda, under the pseudonym Witness P017. The role the witness played in the FPLC has not been disclosed in open court, but he has knowledge of the group’s inner workings and was privy to communications between senior commanders.
The witness recalled hearing a radio message related to prisoners who had been taken by the FPLC’s ‘Romeo Whisky’ unit that was led by a commander known as ‘Papa Oscar.’ Upon receipt of the message, another commander known as ‘Echo Charlie’ left the camp where the witness was and later returned with “more than 20 prisoners … mostly women and children.”
The witness saw the prisoners when they were brought back to the camp. Some of the children were less than ten years old, while the women were about age 30. None of them wore military uniforms or carried a weapon. The witness said all of them belonged to the Lendu ethnic group, which prosecutors claim the FPLC targeted with attacks, killings, and rape, during the 2002-2003 conflict in Congo.
Witness P017 said two FPLC insiders told him later that the prisoners had been killed. “He simply said that a group of soldiers had executed them,” the witness said of one his colleagues who informed him about the killings. “I asked him whether all prisoners had been executed. He said most of them had been executed.”
The witness said the individuals who told him about the killings mentioned the use of kafuni, a type of cane with a small bulge at the end, which was used during torture by FPLC soldiers. Some witnesses in the trial of Thomas Lubanga, who was the FPLC’s commander-in-chief, said torture with this cane could easily lead to death if applied to the back of the victim’s neck.
“Was anybody ever punished for killings of the first group which had men or the second group with mainly children and women?” asked trial lawyer Diane Luping.
“As far as I know no one was bothered or prosecuted for what happened in Kobu,” the witness replied.
Also in his evidence today, the witness said that within the FPLC there was a unit made up of kadogos, or young soldiers, all under 15 years. After undergoing military training, most of the boys wore military uniforms and carried arms.
Asked by Luping if he heard of orders within the FPLC to demobilize child soldiers, the witness said around June or July of 2003, Floribert Kisembo, the groups’ chief of staff, ordered that the child soldiers be disarmed. However, not long after they were disarmed, they were given back their arms and sent to fight at the frontline when the group came under attack.
According to the witness, each attack by the FPLC required authorization from Ntaganda, who was the chief of general staff in charge of operations.
Witness P017 continues his testimony tomorrow morning.