Witnesses lied in Congo militiaman's trial: defence
Nine witnesses presented by prosecutors as former child soldiers have lied to the world crimes court during the trial of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, his defence said Friday.
In the first trial before the International Criminal Court, Lubanga, 50, is accused of using children under the age of 15 to fight for his militia during the Democratic Republic of Congo's five-year civil war, which ended in 2003.
"Certain intermediaries of the prosecutor's office prepared the witnesses to tell stories before the court," said Catherine Mabille, Lubanga's lead counsel adding "they were asked to lie".
"School records show... beyond doubt that these children were on school benches when they were claimed to have been at the worst atrocities," she told judges, adding there were "irreconcilable contradictions" in their testimonies.
Prosecutors as well as victims' representatives and Lubanga's defence are making their final statements Thursday and Friday before a three-panel bench of ICC judges retire to mull a judgment as the case draws to an end.
The war crimes trial of the alleged founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and chief commander of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) opened on January 26, 2009.
Lubanga's trial was suspended on July 8 last year for three months after the prosecutor's refusal to disclose to Lubanga's defence team the name of an "intermediary" used by prosecution investigators to find witnesses to Lubanga's alleged crimes.
The militia leader's defence team claimed that false testimonies were "fabricated" with the help of intermediaries and in collaboration with the prosecutor's office.
The defence then tried in vain to stay proceedings.
ICC deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges Thursday that Lubanga was guilty "beyond reasonable doubt" of conscripting child soldiers.
"Thomas Lubanga, in a plan with others, systematically enrolled children under the age of 15," she said, adding "those children were trained in about 20 camps around Ituri... they were used to rape and pillage".
If convicted, judges can sentence Lubanga, but they have the option of asking parties involved on what they thought to be an appropriate punishment before making a decision.
In addition, the militia leader could also be ordered to pay compensation to some 118 victims in the DR Congo's eastern region, one of the world's most lucrative gold-mining areas.
The judgment is not expected for months.
During 220 sittings, judges heard testimony of 36 prosecution and 24 defence witnesses, as well as three witnesses representing victims.
Two other trials are currently pending before the ICC including Congolese militia leaders Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo, who were Lubanga's former enemies.
They face crimes against humanity and war crimes charges and have been on trial since November 24, 2009, for the attack on a village in the DRC in 2003.
Former DRC deputy president Jean-Pierre Bemba has been on trial since November 22, 2010 for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the Central African Republic.
Opening its doors in 2002, the ICC, is the world's only independent, permanent tribunal with the jurisdiction to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
© 2011 AFP