Lubanga–incarcerated in The Hague, thousands of miles away from his stronghold–still wields great influence in Ituri
The future of the ICC rests on the success of its first trial
Since the Lubanga trial opened on 26 January, we in the Congo have been closely watching proceedings unfold at the International Criminal Court. The trial’s opening sparked keen interest among victims affected both directly and indirectly by the successive abuses of power that the DRC has come to know. But the retraction of the statement made by an ex-child soldier witness who fought in Thomas Lubanga’s army, the U.P.C., has resulted in diminished interest among Congolese observers.
To us it is clear that Mr. Lubanga–incarcerated in The Hague, thousands of miles away from his stronghold–still wields great influence in Ituri where his supporters continue to almost blindly obey him. This was perhaps never more the case than when the Court announced it would suspend his trial. Large numbers of people in Ituri prepared for the return of “the liberator” as some referred to him.
Last week’s incident also highlights the fact that the Prosecutor’s office did not give sufficient guarantees to the witness, in terms of his own security and the security of his loved-ones who live in Ituri. His loved-ones could have easily been targets of retaliation by Lubanga’s followers who stand ready to receive their leader should he ever be released.
We have always expressed our concerns about the quality as well as the quantity of evidence that the prosecution holds and the way the victims and witnesses were selected. We hope that this episode is only a minor incident and that the rest of the trial will continue normally because in the end, the court is gambling with its credibility during this first, most historic of trials.
Freddy Kitoko is a Congolese lawyer with the Lubumbashi Bar and member of the human rights organization, African Association of Human Rights (ASADHO).