A victim of crimes allegedly committed by Bosco Ntaganda’s troops has narrated how Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) fighters tortured him and killed six members of his family, including his wife.
Testifying in Swahili under the pseudonym Witness V1, he told International Criminal Court (ICC) judges on Monday that rebel troops also burned his three houses to the ground and stole his livestock and other household property.
He said his ordeal at the hands of the rebels started towards the end of 2002, when they arrested him and kept him at a prison in the village of Nizi. “They beat me severely before reaching Nizi, and when I reached there they beat me severely,” recalled the witness, who was previously known by the court-given pseudonym Victim a/00256/13.
The witness recounted how, at the prison, UPC fighters undressed him and doused him in cold water before beating him “countless times” using batons and clubs.
“Did the soldiers tell you why they were beating you? Did they say anything?” asked the victim’s legal representative Dmytro Suprun.
Witness V1 responded that, as the militiamen beat him, they said, “It is because you’re Lendus. We are the people who are the masters of the Lendus.” He added: “They arrested me because I am Lendu, and at that time the Hema and Lendu were not getting on well, they were fighting.”
Ntaganda is on trial at the ICC over various war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by himself and his UPC troops, during the 2002-2003 ethnic conflict in Congo’s Ituri district. Prosecutors say the predominantly Hema UPC, in which Ntaganda was deputy chief of staff, committed numerous atrocities against the Lendu whom they sought to drive out of parts of the district.
Witness V1 was kept in captivity at Nizi for four days, during which he was forced to clean the militiamen’s latrines bare-handed and to fetch water for them. “When I was cleaning the toilets I was doing it barehanded … I cleaned the toilets after receiving the lashes. I was injured,” he said.
He said he was subsequently transferred to Bunia town, where the UPC had its headquarters. There, an unnamed commander believed to belong to the group ordered that he should be taken to a health center because he was badly injured on the head and abdomen and could not walk.
After receiving medical treatment, in December 2002 the witness returned home, but a day or two later his village was attacked by Ntaganda’s fighters. It was during this attack that a shell fired by the militiamen killed six members of his family.
On the fateful day, he said he heard an explosion in his compound and went out of the house to check. “I noticed that my wife was on the ground. She was dead. I also saw one of my children on the ground, one of my nephews on the ground, another who had been hit. All these people died at the same time – six people,” said Witness V1.
Suprun then asked, “What did you feel when family members were killed by the explosion?”
“Sorrow,” replied the witness. “And for six months I didn’t want to utter one word to a woman because my wife was killed, my kids were killed. So for six months I didn’t speak to a woman at all because I was in profound sorrow.”
Witness V1 said he still suffers pain resulting from the torture by UPC soldiers and has to take a minimum of three pills daily to contain the pain. Moreover, the injuries have made it difficult for him to till his gardens and restricted his movements.
Witness V1 is the first of three witnesses that were victims of UPC crimes that is scheduled to testify this week, the other two being Witness V2 (previously known as Victim a/30365/15) and Witness V3 (previously known as Victim a/30012/15). Last month, five victims presented their views and concerns to the court, with their presentations limited to discussing the harm they suffered.
Lawyers representing victims had requested that eight victims present evidence while four give their views and concerns. However, judges declined to hear the testimony of three of the individuals proposed, and only allowed three to provide evidence.
Asked by Suprun what he expected from the trial if Ntaganda was found guilty, Witness V1 responded that he would need assistance to rebuild his three grass-thatched houses that the rebels burnt to the ground.
He added: “I also lost members of my family. I would like to be able to build graves and bury them in a dignified way.”
Witness V1 this afternoon completed his testimony via video link. He testified with the protective measures of a pseudonym and voice and image distortion during public re-broadcast of his testimony. All of the defense’s cross-examination was closed to the public.
Tuesday morning, another witness called by victim’s lawyers will take the stand.