A former fighter in the group in which Bosco Ntaganda was a commander has recounted how militiamen executed more than 40 civilians a day after they took them prisoner. He said Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) fighters raped the female prisoners before killing them.
“They raped some people before they executed them,” he said about the conduct of his former colleagues during attacks on Kobu town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in February 2003. He added: “When we were in camp, there were soldiers who talked of what they had done…they said that they raped some people before they executed them.”
The former fighter is testifying for the prosecution in Ntaganda’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) under the pseudonym Witness P963, with image and voice distortion during rebroadcasts of his testimony to keep his identity secret. He said the perpetrators openly talked about their acts of rape and execution of prisoners at the group’s camp in Bunia town. In a session closed to the public, the witness provided the names of the soldiers who claimed they committed rape.
Witness P963 recalled that during an operation involving three UPC brigades, about 48 civilians were rounded up. The witness said he saw the prisoners lined up outside a house as UPC soldiers questioned them. The prisoners were unarmed and were pleading that they were civilians and did not have any weapons. At the time, UPC soldiers were demanding that the prisoners disclose the whereabouts of a grenade launcher that Lendu fighters had captured from the UPC during a battle in the town of Lipri.
The witness testified that, later that night, the prisoners were executed. “When they were taken to be executed at night some of them were shouting…it was dark, but we could see people passing.
“I can’t explain what those screams were, but some of them were crying as they were being taken away by groups of soldiers.”
Prosecuting lawyer Julieta Solano asked, “When they were being taken to the banana plantation to be executed, could these persons have run away?”
“No,” replied the witness. “Those who were taking them away were armed, and if anybody attempted to flee they would have been shot dead anyway.”
According to the witness, no soldier or commander who committed rape or participated in the execution was punished. In his testimony today, Witness P963 cited UPC commanders Salumu Mulenda and Simba as having been in charge of soldiers who committed rape, murder, and pillaging.
At least two earlier prosecution witnesses have recounted massacres by UPC fighters. The first witness to take the stand, Witness P0805, recounted how UPC fighters convened a peace meeting with members of the Lendu community but instead arrested and later shot dead those who turned up. He said he counted 49 bodies of slain civilians, including women and children, some only two or three years old. Similarly, Witness P790 testified that troops belonging to the militia killed at least 57 civilians, including children and women, during four attacks on Kobu.
According to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Ntaganda was the top commander in charge of operations during the two main attacks over which he is on trial, as he “planned, coordinated and commanded the attacks.” The prosecutor has said that, instead of punishing Commander Mulenda, who led the killings in Kobu, Ntaganda praised him as a “real man.”
In its opening statement last September, the prosecution said Commander Mulenda raped a witness, Commander Abelanga was a “serial rapist,” while Commander Simba “openly talked about having raped women before killing them in the Kobu massacre.”
Witness P963 continues his testimony tomorrow morning.