Congo warlord defence opens at ICC


Lawyers for warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, accused of recruiting child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), will open their defence at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today.

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (49) faces counts of war crimes consisting of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities in the DRC. The trial started on 26 January, 2009. Lubanga has pleaded not guilty.

The defence case, led by Catherine Mabille, is expected to last several months and call around 30 witnesses. The witnesses will be examined by the Defence and cross-examined by the Prosecution.

Expert witnesses and victims

But as of today, the ICC judges will first hear the testimony of Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for Children and Armed Conflict. She appears before the ICC upon request of the judges, as well as another expert-witness and three victims-witnesses.

Coomaraswamy will be testifying as an expert witness on the definition of conscription or enlistment of children, and on the interpretation of the term “using them to participate actively in the hostilities”. Following her testimony, over the course of the next week, the court will hear Professor Kambayi Bwatshia, an expert on names and other social conventions in the DRC.

Finally, three victims will express their views and concerns and give evidence in person, as witnesses. Two of them will testify about their alleged recruitment by Lubanga’s militia, the UPC (Union des patriotes congolais – Union of Congolese Patriots), when they were under the age of 15 in Ituri and the last one will give evidence on the alleged recruitment of children in Ituri.

Child soldiers

Prosecutors say Lubanga’s role in the conflict was driven by a desire to maintain and expand control over the eastern Ituri region, one of the world’s most lucrative gold-mining areas. Rights groups claim inter-ethnic fighting has killed 60 000 people in Ituri over the last decade.

Prosecutors say his militia abducted children as young as 11 from their homes, schools and football fields and took them to military training camps where they were beaten and drugged. The girls among them were used as sex slaves.

The prosecution wound up its case on July 14 after calling 28 witnesses, including former child soldiers, over 74 days of hearings. The first prosecution witness, a former child soldier, retracted his testimony under Lubanga’s constant glare from the dock, forcing the court to examine new ways of shielding witnesses.
103 victims represented by three teams of legal counsel have been authorised to participate in the trial. They have the right to express their position on matters heard before the Chamber and subject to the judge’s authorisation, they may examine witnesses on specific issues.