Commanders in Bosco Ntaganda’s militia group raped female recruits while others took female military personnel as their wives, according to a former insider’s testimony.
Testifying at Ntaganda’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) under the pseudonym Witness P907, the former Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) fighter said one of the female soldiers who was raped was “young” while others were “older.” He gave the details of the rapes, including the names of soldiers who were raped, in closed session.
In open court, the witness said some female military personnel (commonly known as PMF) “were transformed into commanders’ wives.” He cited one commander who took a PMF as his second wife and two other commanders who fought over a PMF, leading to her transfer to a different unit.
Asked by prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson whether PMFs were treated differently from male soldiers, the witness said “there was no distinction” and all soldiers had to abide by the same military code. “When it came to battle, all had to go to battle. Punishment was the same. They were all treated in the same manner,” he said.
Witness P907 also said among the “thousands” of recruits at the group’s training camp in Mandro were children, some of whom looked 10 or 12 years old, who underwent the same training exercises as adults. The children, he said, joined the militia because they had no refuge during the conflict and could not locate their parents.
According to the witness, some of the young recruits went into combat before completing training. “If there was an attack by the enemy, one would go before finishing training,” he said.
Asked how the youngest children managed to endure the grueling training, the witness responded: “If you tried to escape, you were told you would be shot. They did manage to get through the training. The problem was wearing boots and military uniform. Weapons were heavy, uniforms were big.”
Upon completion of training, some of the children went on to become bodyguards to the group’s top commanders while others went into combat.
Besides the use of a pseudonym, Witness P907 testified with image and voice distortion during public rebroadcast of his testimony in order to protect his identity. Judges also granted Witness P907 assurances against self-incrimination during the course of his testimony.
He is the 18th individual to testify in the trial of Ntaganda, the former UPC deputy chief of staff on trial over 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape, sexual slavery, and the use of child soldiers. The crimes were allegedly committed by Ntaganda and his soldiers during 2002 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Also in his testimony today, Witness P907 described Ntaganda as “the top gun” who received “all the reports” regarding the training camp. He said the accused sometimes visited Mandro to check on the progress of recruits and also officiated graduation ceremonies.
The recruits referred to Ntaganda as “Afande” or “Mzee” – Swahili words for commander and respected old man, respectively. Meanwhile, officers at the camp, including the training instructors, called Ntaganda “Tango Romeo,” said the former insider.
He said Ntaganda presided over all military operations, such as strategic planning for ammunition and soldiers. “He was the person responsible, nobody else. You couldn’t go to war without his approval,” the witness stated.
The prosecution continues its questioning of Witness P907 tomorrow morning.