Bosco Ntaganda grabbed children from a boy’s primary school and conscripted them into his militia group, according to the testimony of a prosecution witness at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The witness stated that Ntaganda led a group of soldiers for a raid on the school in Muzipela in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and took an unspecified number of children whom he drafted into his militia.
“When he arrived, children were still in their classrooms. He took some teachers forcibly and asked them to open doors to the classrooms. He took some children out of the fifth year [class] and forcibly took those children by road to Mandro,” said the witness, who was testifying for a second day at the ICC under the pseudonym Witness P190. Mandro housed a training camp for the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the group in which Ntaganda was a senior commander.
Asked by trial lawyer Eric Iverson why Ntaganda specifically took primary school children, Witness P190, who claimed to have witnessed the events, stated that FPLC needed recruits to bolster its fight against rival militia from the Lendu ethnic group. He said the school in Muzipela was situated near the group’s Mandro camp, and residents of the surrounding locality belonged to the Hema and Bira ethnic groups allied to the FPLC.
“But I am not able to tell you why he specifically chose that school and children from primary whereas there was a secondary school not far from Mandro and another in Bunia,” added the witness. It was not clear if the witness was a member of Ntaganda’s group.
Since he took the stand yesterday, most of the evidence by Witness P190 has been heard in closed session. Judges granted him other protective measures, including image and voice distortion during public broadcasts of his testimony, to avert any possible security risks against him and his family.
In the brief moments of open court this afternoon, Witness P190 said the Mandro camp, where the school children were taken, was merely a piece of ground where cows grazed and consisted of a few huts. It was on these grounds that the children were trained in weapons handling and shooting. The witness said the children were also taught “threatening and intimidation” tactics.
“He [Ntaganda] said that in all revolutions, one must know one’s enemy and the first enemy is the Lendu. That was the sentence repeated by all soldiers present in Mandro,” the witness said.
Witness P190 could not give an exact figure of the number of children taken from the school to the camp. However, he estimated that there may have been about 100 children at Mandro, including others forcibly taken from other locations. He said all the children at the camp were aged between 11 and 13 years. According to the witness, if anyone was found attempting to escape, they would be shot.
“What were the reactions of the families of the taken children?” asked Iverson.
The witness replied that there were very negative reactions from school officials and the children’s families. “You could hear all along the road family members crying out, but that didn’t mean a thing to Ntaganda. Everyone feared him. Families were crying and wailing but couldn’t do anything,” he added.
Ntaganda, the former deputy chief of staff of the FPLC, is on trial at the court based in The Hague over 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, and use of child soldiers. The alleged crimes, which Ntaganda denies, were committed in Congo’s Ituri district during 2002 and 2003.
Thomas Lubanga, the FPLC’s leader, was the first person to be convicted by the ICC. He is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for the recruitment, enlistment, and use of children under 15 years in an armed conflict.
Tomorrow morning, the defense will cross-examine Witness P190.