Defense lawyer says witnesses lied at ICC trial

AP News
Posted: Aug 26, 2011 11:24 AM
Defense lawyer says witnesses lied at ICC trial

The defense lawyer for a Congolese militia leader accused of recruiting and using child soldiers told judges at the International Criminal Court on Friday that prosecution witnesses were manipulated to falsely testify against him.

Delivering her closing statement, Thomas Lubanga's lawyer Catherine Mabille said intermediaries employed by prosecutors "prepared witnesses to come and give false accounts before the court."

Mabille's claims came on the final day of the court's first trial before judges begin considering their verdicts in the landmark case.

On Thursday, Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges that evidence in the trial that began in January 2009 showed that Lubanga's militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots, had transformed children into killers and given girls to his commanders as sex slaves during a brutal interethnic conflict between 2002-2003 in the eastern Ituri region of Congo.

But Mabille said all nine witnesses called by prosecutors and presented as former child soldiers lied in their testimony.

"School records demonstrate that these alleged child soldiers were in school studying during the time when they claimed they had been subjected to danger or cruelty" in Lubanga's militia, she said.

Mabille alleged that at least one of the intermediaries was an agent of the Congolese government, calling his involvement "a threat to the independence of the court."

She said they recruited children to lie by saying they would be rewarded for testifying in The Hague either with money, education or relocation.

Prosecutors have stood by the testimony of their witnesses despite Mabille's claims and on Thursday dismissed the idea that all of their witnesses would have lied to the court.

They also showed judges a video of Lubanga at a military training camp surrounded by conscripts, some of whom they said were clearly young children.

But Mabille cautioned judges that a video, "does not make it possible beyond a reasonable doubt to determine the age of an individual."

While Mabille did not claim Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo deliberately misled the court, she said he had failed to "ensure the reliability of the information provided to the chamber by his own witnesses."

Moreno Ocampo sat in court listening to Mabille and showed no reaction to her claims.

The trial is the first in an international court to focus exclusively on the use of child soldiers and is expected to set significant legal precedents for courts around the world prosecuting the widespread use of children in armed conflicts.

However, it also was beset by delays and clashes between prosecutors and judges. Human rights activists also criticized prosecutors for not filing charges of sexual violence against Lubanga.

Another of Lubanga's attorneys, Jean-Marie Biju-Duval said that rather than recruiting child soldiers, Lubanga actively attempted to stop the enlistment of youngsters by issuing orders to his commanders to demobilize children. Prosecutors have dismissed those orders as a public relations stunt.

As the trial wrapped up, Lubanga _ who did not testify in his own defense _ briefly addressed judges, saying that throughout the trial "it has been impossible for me to recognize myself within the context of the accusations ascribed to me."

He said all of his actions in Ituri were "trying to save what is dearest to every human, namely life."