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Ntaganda Confirmation of Charges Hearing Ends

On the last day of Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda’s confirmation of charges hearings at the International Criminal Court (ICC), his lawyers told judges the charges against him were based on “incorrect information.”

Defense lawyer Marc Desalliers said it was not true that Mr. Ntaganda raped an unnamed prosecution witness.

He also maintained that a video filmed in November 2002, which both the prosecution and the defense presented as part of their evidence, showed that the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) was making peace not brutalizing civilians.

Mr. Ntaganda was the deputy chief of staff of the FPLC, which prosecutors claim carried out ethnically motivated attacks against civilians in Congo’s Ituri province.

Yesterday, prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson said the video footage was political propaganda primarily aimed at foreign powers. She added that the journalist who was shown interviewing the group’s leaders and residents of Mongbwalu town was from the local radio station Kandip, controlled at the time by the rebel group.

“The radio station allegation is incorrect. The journalist is from Uganda and was working for ABC radio,” Mr. Desalliers countered today.

The confirmation of charges hearings began on Monday this week with the prosecution submitting evidence on five counts of crimes against humanity and 13 counts of war crimes against Mr. Ntaganda.

The crimes, including rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, murder, and use of child soldiers, were allegedly committed during 2002 and 2003.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Ntaganda directly ordered his predominantly Hema troops to brutalize the Lendu population and that crimes were furthered by his “direct perpetration” of crimes including murder and rape.

Furthermore, the prosecution said Mr. Ntaganda shot and killed the priest of Mongbwalu parish and ordered his bodyguards to rape three women who were being held captive in the apartment in Mongbwalu where Mr. Ntaganda was staying.

However, defense lawyers portrayed Mr. Ntaganda as a peacemaker who was warmly welcomed by residents of the town that had been besieged by a murderous ethnic militia.

The defense said the FPLC’s combat operations were targeted at rival militia groups who had brutalized civilians, forcing many to flee their homes. The group’s mission was to restore peace to the area, and its composition, including at the highest level, was ethnically diverse, they said.

At the end of the hearing, Presiding judge Ekaterina Trendafilova gave the prosecution and victims’ lawyers until March 7 to file written observations addressing the issues discussed during the five day hearing. The defense has until April 4, 2014 to submit its observations. Within 60 days from the receipt of the defense’s final submissions, the judges will issue their decision.

Judges have the option of confirming the charges where there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial. They could also decline to confirm the charges if the prosecution’s evidence is deemed insufficient.

A third possibility is for the judges to request the prosecution to provide additional evidence, conduct further investigations, or amend charges for which the evidence submitted appears to establish that a crime other than those charged was committed.

The ICC issued its first arrest warrant against Mr. Ntaganda in 2006. He was accused, along with Thomas Lubanga – the head of the group’s political wing that was known as the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) – of enlisting, conscripting, and using child soldiers.

However, while Congolese authorities transferred Mr. Lubanga was to The Hague and became the first person to be tried and convicted by the court, Mr. Ntaganda stayed at large until he voluntarily surrendered last year.