The case for the defence in the war crimes trial of former Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga opened this week with his lawyers declaring that prosecution witnesses were coached, and that the witnesses who claimed to have been child soldiers never were.
Catherine Mabille, the lead defence counsel, said that they would ask judges to discontinue the case after producing 16 witnesses who will, among others, show that all the witnesses presented by the prosecution as former child soldiers were bogus.
She said the witnesses, and in some cases their parents, deliberately lied to the court, and that they were helped by agents of the Office of The Prosecutor to fabricate their testimony.
"The defence intend to show that six of them were never child soldiers, the seventh lied about his age and the conditions in which he enrolled, and the eighth never belonged to the UPC [Union of Congolese Patriots]," she said.
Lubanga, whom the International Criminal Court, ICC, alleges was the founder of the UPC, is accused of enlisting, conscripting and using child soldiers in armed conflict during 2002 and 2003.
The ICC also charges that Lubanga was the commander-in-chief of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, FPLC, which used child soldiers in inter-ethnic fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The defence said that it would not be possible to ensure a fair trial when a significant part of the trial was based on fabricated evidence.
"How can judges carry out their roles, that is to say seeking out and establishing the truth, if the testimony that they have heard is the result of a concerted effort to deceive them?" Mabille asked.
The first witness to appear for the defence told the court that, although his son never served in any military group, an organisation that had promised to give the boy a job later started passing him off as a former child soldier.
The unnamed organisation also duped the child's mother and uncle into believing it would offer a scholarship to the boy, the witness said.
This organisation had offices in the north-eastern Congolese town of Beni and in the capital Kinshasa, the witness said.
It was not clear from the parts of the testimony that were given in open session – most was in closed session - whether the son of the first defence witness had previously appeared as a prosecution witness and claimed to have served as a child soldier.
Earlier, when the witness first testified, he said that throughout 2002 and 2003 he was at home with his son and that at no time did the boy serve in any military group.
He said that in 2007 his son ran away from home and started staying with an aunt. It was while there that he met the staff of the unnamed organisation who were later to claim he had been a child soldier.
The defence alleged that prosecution witnesses were encouraged to lie on a number of very specific points, in particular their name, the name of their parents and the schools they attended.
"This was done so that it would be more difficult to verify the information relating to them," Mabille said. "They were encouraged to lie about their age and the fact that they allegedly belonged to an armed group so as to qualify for the charges against Mr Lubanga."
Mabille said the defence did not intend to show that there were no minors among the ranks of the FPLC, but that Lubanga did not take part in recruiting child soldiers. Instead, he tried against many odds to demobilise the child fighters who were in FPLC, she said.
"The defence witnesses will tender evidence to the effect that Thomas Lubanga the political leader played no active role in the creation of the UPC military forces and in no way did he take part deliberately in a common plan to recruit minors," Mabille said.
To protect his identity, the witness testified out of public view with voice distortion. Defence lawyers said at the start of the testimony that while they had previously expected the witness to testify in public, he subsequently indicated that he wanted to have protective measures for security reasons.
This witness will continue giving evidence next week.
IWPR's weekly updates of the Thomas Lubanga trial are produced in co-operation with the Open Society Justice Initiative of the Open Society Institute, OSI. Daily coverage of the trial can be found at www.lubangatrial.org.