A former fighter in the militia group in which Bosco Ntaganda served as deputy chief of staff has told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Ntaganda ordered recruits to “go from house to house, and if you find enemies, kill them.”
Testifying for the prosecution in Ntaganda’s trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the court based in The Hague, Witness P888 said the orders were executed in the Congolese town of Songolo. “Several people were killed. We killed and torched their houses. We also removed every single item of value and handed them back to the commanders,” he said.
Witness P888 said as part of their training at the group’s camp at Mandro, Union for Congolese Patriots (UPC) recruits were taught to “face the enemy and how to get power.”
“Who were the enemy, and what do you mean by ‘get to power?’” asked prosecution lawyer Diane Luping.
“We were the Hema. The Lendu and Ngiti were the enemy. In order to get power, we had to capture and chase them out of their areas,” replied the witness, referring to various ethnic groups in the east of Congo.
Regarding the battle in Songolo, Witness P888 admitted that he did not see or hear Ntaganda directly give the orders to kill. However, he heard from fellow soldiers that the accused issued the orders to other commanders via Motorola radio.
Among those killed during fighting in the town were babies and children as young as five years, said Witness P888. The witness said the items looted included cameras, radios, and television sets. He added: “We would even go into shops and take merchandise such as biscuits, sardines, and clothing.” The more valuable items were handed over to commanders, while the recruits kept those of lesser value such, as clothing, he said.
Witness P888 testified with protective measures including image and voice distortion. Hearings also frequently went into closed session in order to keep his identity secret. In the moments his testimony was open to the public, the witness stated that he was recruited into the UPC, and he described the conditions at the group’s training camp as “difficult.”
“How often did you get to eat on a daily basis?” asked Luping.
“We had one meal per day. At about 6pm or 7pm, we would be served that meal,” he replied.
Recruits were tasked with building the residences occupied by commanders at the camp. “We are the ones who built the places where commanders spent the night,” he said.
Witness P888 also testified that he heard about the rape of female recruits by commanders. “When they were raped, they couldn’t say no because it was commanders, and they were stronger than the girls,” he said. However, the witness was unable to give any of the culprits’ names. He could also not estimate the age of the rape victims but said “they may have been 16 or 17 years old.”
The witness said recruits who attempted to escape from the camp were punished by being beaten in front of other recruits.
Prosecutors at the ICC accuse Ntaganda of numerous crimes, including attacking civilians, rape, sexual slavery of civilians, pillaging, murder, and displacement of civilians. He is also charged with rape, sexual slavery, enlistment and conscription of child soldiers under the age of 15 years and using them in hostilities. Ntaganda denies responsibility for the crimes, which were allegedly committed during 2002 and 2003, claiming he only fought for peace and the return of displaced civilians to their homes.
Witness P888 continues his testimony tomorrow morning.