Monday February 21, 2011, marked an important turning point in the Katanga and Ngudjolo trial. Upon resuming hearings after the Prosecution rested its case and the court observed its annual winter recess, the trial heard testimony from victim participants. Notably, these victim participants testified during the week that marked the eight-year anniversary of the attack on Bogoro, which forms the basis of the charges against the two accused.
Germain Katanga, alleged commander of the Force de résistance patriotique en Ituri (FRPI) militia, and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, alleged former leader of the Front des nationalistes et intégrationnistes (FNI) militia, are charged with crimes allegedly committed in Bogoro, a village in the Ituri Province of eastern DRC in early 2003.
The charges include seven counts of war crimes (using children under the age of fifteen to take active part in hostilities, directing an attack against civilians, willful killing, destruction of property, pillaging, sexual slavery, and rape) and three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, rape, and sexual slavery).
Victim Participants Testifying in the Katanga and Ngudjolo Trial
In the Katanga trial, there are 363 participating victims, separated into two groups. One group consists of “general” victims, and another smaller group consists of former child soldiers. Each group has separate legal representation.
Participating victims are not parties to the proceedings. Therefore, they do not have a right to directly call witnesses to give evidence. However, under article 68 (3) of the Rome Statute, which allows victims to present their “views and concerns” to the court, they may request permission to call witnesses and present documentary evidence. Their application, which must be filed before the Prosecution concludes its case, should set out “how the evidence they intend to adduce is relevant and how it may contribute to the determination of the truth.”
If the victims can persuade the judges that their interests are affected by the witness testimony, the Trial Chamber can request the proposed evidence. This can include testimony about the guilt of the accused, including the role of the accused in the crimes charged against them, as long as it is considered necessary for the determination of the truth.
The Trial Chamber must also ensure that Katanga’s and Ngudjolo’s rights to a fair trial are always respected. Therefore, the Appeals Chamber has held that “whether a victim will be requested to testify on matters relating to the conduct of the accused will depend on the Trial Chamber’s assessment of whether such testimony: (i) affects the victim’s personal interests; (ii) is relevant to the issues of the case; (iii) contributes to the determination of the truth; and (iv) whether the testimony would be consistent with the rights of the accused, and in particular the right to have adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence, and a fair and impartial trial.”
Allowing victim participants to testify serves several important purposes. As noted above, it can provide evidence about the conduct of the accused and contribute to the judge’s search for the truth. Testimony from the victim participants can also impact the sentence the two accused would receive if they are found guilty, and assist the judges in making determinations about reparations to the victims. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that it gives these victims a voice in the proceedings.
Two participating victims testified. A summary of their testimony before the court will be provided shortly, once the trial transcripts become available to trial monitors.