By Paul Ndiho
March 15, 2012
The international war crimes court found former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty on Wednesday of recruiting and deploying child soldiers during the War in Eastern Congo. More than a decade ago, I was a reporter embedded with rebel groups supported by Uganda– and I witnessed the recruitment of child soldiers and killings that took place in some parts of Eastern Congo. Here is my account of events that happened.
A Three judge panel of the International Criminal Court found that Thomas Lubanga was the president of the militia group known as the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during an armed conflict that has lasted for over a decade.
“The Chamber spent a considerable amount of time, investigating the circumstances of a substantial number of individuals, whose evidence was at least in part, inaccurate or dishonest. Prosecution’s negligence in failing to verify and scrutinize this material sufficiently, before it was introduced, led to significant expenditure on the part of the court.”
The judge said that Lubanga was essential to a plan to conscript young girls and boys below the age of 15. Lubanga, 51, was detained six years ago and faced three counts of war crimes. He could face up to life imprisonment, although a sentence will not be passed immediately. An appeal can be filed within 30 days.
Two other Congolese warlords are on trial at the International Criminal Court on charges they instructed their subordinates to attack civilians, rape women and enlist child soldiers in what has been called “the greatest armed conflict” since World War II. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
From 1999 – 2001, I was embedded with rebel factions in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. But nothing prepared me for the violence I witnessed there in 2001
One morning I was caught in the middle of the Lendu militia attacks against the Hema in Bogoro a village near Bunia. In this and other villages, scores of people were killed and thousands were driven from their homes.
What started as a land dispute between two normally peaceful groups grew into a larger clash when Ugandan forces entered the region? The Ugandan forces sided with
The Hema and this favoritism caused a backlash from the Lendu, leading to the widespread killing.
According to eyewitness accounts, the Lendu attacked the Hema in Nyekunde at dawn, killing everyone they encountered, including women and children. A cloud of heavy smoke covered the village. The stench from the burning bodies was unbearable. That same night, the Lendu militia also invaded Nyekunde hospital, where hundreds of people were hiding and cut them into pieces. Scores of other nearby villages were burned to the ground. I saw several mass graves where a hundreds of people were being buried, and the Hema was armed with bow and arrows, ready to defend their village.
It was this kind of carnage, recruiting and deploying child soldiers that I witnessed in 2000 for which Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was found guilty of during the War in Eastern Congo.