Bosco Ntaganda’s militia group took some steps to demobilize child soldiers during 2003, according to testimony heard today from an official who worked with the United Nations to end the use of child fighters by armed groups in Congo.
Kristine Peduto, who was a child protection officer in Congo between 2002 and 2005, said at Ntaganda’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today that the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) issued a radio communique to demobilize child soldiers and thereafter released some children.
“One day after the meeting [with UPC leaders] we heard a demobilization communique broadcast on Radio Kandip,” recalled Peduto, who was testifying for the second day in Ntaganda’s trial. She said following the meeting, an “unknown” number of children were released from the militia. However, the group, in which Ntaganda served as deputy chief of staff, did not put in place appropriate security measures to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate the released children back into the community, Peduto said.
During the meeting between the UN officials and leaders of the militia, Peduto saw “a very young child soldier” among UPC leader Thomas Lubanga’s armed guards. She was unable to tell the exact age of this child soldier.
Ntaganda is on trial for 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery of child soldiers, as well as enlisting and conscripting child soldiers under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities. The crimes were allegedly committed in Congo during 2002-2003.
Peduto also testified that although many armed groups committed sexual violence, UPC soldiers were solely responsible for the rapes documented by her team in Bunia and Sayo towns. “We heard testimony that was consistently referring to UPC soldiers and officers being responsible for sexual violence. We thought that it didn’t just take place by chance; there were too many cases to be just isolated incidents,” said Peduto, who is currently working as a Child Protection Manager at the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
In one incident documented in June 2003, a 14-year-old girl was raped “several times” by five UPC soldiers after they raided her parents’ house. The following month there were two rape reports, one of which involved a 15-year-old girl.
“Were the rapes brought to the attention of the UPC?” asked prosecution lawyer Julieta Solano.
“Yes, I am confident they were,” replied Peduto, who added that she sent to the UPC reports documenting various human rights and security concerns. The reports were addressed to Lubanga.
Peduto said the issue of sexual violence, along with concerns about child soldiers, disappearances, and killings, were also raised during high-level meetings with all armed groups. For the UPC, the alleged meeting took place at Lubanga’s residence in Muzipela town. It was after this meeting that the group issued a demobilization order on a local radio station.
Peduto continues her testimony tomorrow morning.