A former recruit in the militia in which Bosco Ntaganda was a commander has said some children served as military instructors at the group’s training camps. “They gave orders in a childlike way. They were having fun and playing with us,” the witness said of the child instructors.
“Sometimes they would play soccer, not using a ball but a can as if it were a football when they had free time,” recalled the witness, who is testifying for the prosecution in Ntaganda’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Witness P769 said the child instructors were among “many children” at the Union for Congolese Patriots (UPC) training camp at Ndromo when he arrived there, some of whom he estimated were nine years old. When he moved to the Mandro training camp, there were also children within the group’s ranks.
The witness said whereas UPC president Thomas Lubanga ordered Ntaganda and the group’s chief of staff, Floribert Kisembo, to demobilize some of the children, the move was unsuccessful. Ntaganda served as deputy to Kisembo.
“I recall that on one occasion an effort was made to gather the children and return them to their homes, but they came back of their own accord. They refused to go,” said the witness. The children who chose to remain in the militia “had taken a liking to life in the militia.” Witness P769 explained: “Those who were instructors felt like commanders. They could order adults around and didn’t want to be sent back to civilian life.”
Witness P769 said when he was recruited into the UPC, he and other recruits at Ndromo were put through military drills including how to march and to use Kalashnikov rifles. “We would also do psychical gymnastics, such as push-ups. We would jog, and there were also parades at night,” he added.
According to the witness, instructors at Ndromo cautioned the recruits about their behavior and taught them the UPC’s ideology. Caution was issued against committing rape, contracting HIV/Aids, disobeying orders, and desertion.
Witness P769 was granted protective measures in order to keep his identity secret and was given assurances by judges against self-incrimination during the course of his testimony. Prosecutors have indicated that the witness would give evidence on a “significant” number of charges against Ntaganda, such as murder, rape and sexual slavery of child soldiers, enlistment and conscription of children under 15, and their use to participate actively in hostilities.
Ntaganda is charged with attacking civilians, displacement of civilians, murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, and using child soldiers, among other crimes allegedly committed against the non-Hema civilian population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri district during the 2002-2003 ethnic conflict.
His trial at the ICC opened last September and has so far heard the testimony of over 30 witnesses. Yesterday, Witness P113 completed giving evidence before the judges. All of the cross-examination of this witness, who first took the witness stand on July 11, was conducted in private session.
Witness P769 continues his testimony tomorrow morning.