A Congolese woman, who was held in captivity by rebel troops, says she would like reparations once the trial of militiaman Bosco Ntaganda concludes at the International Criminal Court (ICC) so that she and the local community could rebuild their lives. “I expect reparation because we lost much property. Our houses were torched,” she said today during a hearing at the court in The Hague.
Testifying under pseudonym, Witness P113 said troops commanded by Ntaganda pillaged, torched houses, and kidnapped civilians during the ethnic conflict in Congo in 2002 and 2003. She witnessed the torching of houses by Union of Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) troops when they took her captive.
Witness P113 said after she was abducted by the rebels, they took her to Buli, then Sangi, and later on to Kobu. It is unclear how long she stayed in captivity. Asked by prosecution lawyer Marion Rabanit to describe the state of Buli when they left, she replied that houses in the town were on fire.
“Who was setting fire to these houses?” asked Rabanit.
“The UPC soldiers who were with us were setting fire to those houses. There was even one soldier beside me who set light to a house that was owned by one of my neighbors,” said the witness.
Murder, pillaging, and displacement of the population are among the 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against Ntaganda at the ICC. Prosecutors charge that Ntaganda, a former senior commander in the UPC, is criminally responsible for the alleged crimes committed against non-Hema civilians in Congo’s Ituri province 14 years ago.
“When they came they had nothing, but when they left they had goods which they asked us to carry,” said the witness about the UPC’s pillaging in Buli. She said she was personally ordered by UPC senior commander Salumu Mulenda to carry a mattress that he “went on to take with him to Bunia” – the group’s headquarters.
Witness P113 said that, at the time of the events, she lived in Bambu town in Oriental Province in eastern Congo. Towards the end of 2002, the town was attacked and occupied by UPC soldiers, forcing residents to flee the town and neighboring areas such as Kilo and Lipri because “there was no longer peace and security.”
The witness provided details of her abduction in private session. In testimony that was open to the public, she stated that in Buli, her captors ordered her and other captives to fetch water and prepare meals for them.
Witness P113 was granted in-court protective measures, including image and voice distortion during public broadcasts of her evidence. Hearings also frequently went into closed session to avoid revealing information about her identity.
Ntaganda’s lawyers will cross-examine Witness P113 tomorrow morning.