Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Court Told Only Soldiers in Bogoro

Witness says village was just occupied by soldiers during 2003 attack, in which 200 people were killed.
By Sosthène Nsimba
A prosecution witness who claims he took part in the attack on Bogoro in 2003 has told the war crimes trial of two alleged Congolese warlords that the only people he saw in the village were soldiers, not civilians.

The witness, who testified with voice and face distortion, was giving evidence to the International Criminal Court, ICC on February 2 at the trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo. They are charged with ten counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging and the use of child soldiers.

Their charges relate to an attack on the Ituri village of Bogoro on February 23, 2003, in which some 200 people were killed and much of the village burned to the ground.

Ngudjolo is alleged to have been the leader of the National Integrationist Front, FNI, while Katanga allegedly led the Patriotic Resistance Force, FRPI.

At the time of the attack, the town was occupied by soldiers from the Union of Congolese Patriotes, UPC, a rival militia group reportedly led by Thomas Lubanga, also on trial at the ICC.

In response to questions from the prosecution, the witness said, “The buildings of the [Bogoro college] were turned into [military] camps."

The witness added that the soldiers in these camps were from the UPC, and that they had also erected other small buildings close to the school, which they used for military purposes.

When prosecutor Eric MacDonald pressed the witness as to whether there was any indication of civilian occupancy in the town, the witness responded that there was not.

"As far as you were aware, did any of the soldiers that you found in the town have family members in the camps?" asked MacDonald.

The witness replied, “If they had family members in the camps, we would have found them, but we only found the military there. All the people we encountered in Bogoro were soldiers."

The witness said that the forces of Katanga and Ngudjolo took no prisoners in the town. He added that many soldiers were killed, while others fled north, towards Bunia.

He also provided other details about the attack on Bogoro, which he claimed “had been prepared in advance”.

He said that, by 5.30 am, the FNI and FRPI forces were in position and launched their attack on the town at around 6 am. By 10 am, Bogoro was under control of the allied FNI/FRPI soldiers, he added.

During the proceedings, the prosecution expressed concern that the witness did not seem to be answering questions in accordance with the written testimony that he had provided prior to taking the stand.

When MacDonald directly asked the witness if there were civilians in the town, David Hooper, defence lawyer for Katanga, objected by saying that the witness had already given this information.

But MacDonald countered that the information the witness was giving was not the same as had been given previously. He said that he wanted to question the witness further on topics such as the issue of civilian deaths in Bogoro, the presence of children in the camps and whether the destruction of the town had been planned in advance.

He requested permission to “refresh the memory” of the witness by presenting the statements that he had previously given as evidence.

MacDonald went on to refer to case law in both Canada and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where permission was granted to challenge witness testimony based on statements that had been given outside of court.

However, Jean-Pierre Fofé Djofia, a defence attorney for Ngudjolo, said that it was up to the defence to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses and that the prosecution should have already thoroughly investigated the witnesses that they intended to call.

David Hooper, defence lawyer for Katanga, said that the defence team would need more time to react to the prosecution's request and to study the case law that MacDonald had referred to.

Sosthène Nsimba is an IWPR trainee.

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