International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors have dismissed as “far from the truth” claims that Bosco Ntaganda’s militia group worked for peace and embraced people from all ethnic groups. They affirmed that there was sufficient evidence to commit Mr. Ntaganda to trial.
While delivering final submissions in the confirmation of charges hearing, prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson said the testimony of 18 eye witnesses, 10 former insiders in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), six independent observers, plus video and documentary evidence, showed that the group committed crimes against non-Hema civilians.
“The public remarks of UPC military leaders do not undermine the testimony of these witnesses,” said Ms. Samson.
Yesterday, defense lawyer Marc Desalliers presented a video in which residents of Mongbwalu town in Congo appeared to warmly welcome the accused and his troops. In the footage filmed in November 2002, Mr. Ntaganda and the group’s president, Thomas Lubanga, say their objective is to bring peace to the region.
Mr. Desalliers said the video footage showed that the UPC’s military wing, the FPLC, were fighting against rival militia groups who had looted from local residences and shops and forced residents to flee.
According to Ms. Samson, those public statements did not reflect the reality. She said the video was intended to serve propaganda purposes. It was “aimed at foreign powers including those present in Ituri at the time.” She said the journalist who filmed the footage was from Radio Kandip, which was controlled by the UPC at the time.
Ms. Samson said including non-Hemas in the group’s leadership was a “token” to give the group a good public image, but those individuals were not involved in decision making.
One of the group’s top officials of non-Hema origin was quoted in a statement as saying he did not have a choice on joining the group. He said he joined because he “wanted to avoid being killed.”
Prosecutors want judges to commit Mr. Ntaganda, a Congolese national, to trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes. He is charged with 18 counts, including rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, murder, and use of child soldiers. He is alleged to have committed the crimes during 2002 and 2003 when he was deputy chief of staff of UPC/FPLC.
This morning, defense lawyer Caroline Buteau asked judges to dismiss the charges against Mr. Ntaganda saying the prosecution had insufficient evidence to support its claims. She said that while it was alleged that Mr. Ntaganda was guilty of forced transfer of population, video footage presented in court showed a movement of civilians. “They had been alerted of a military operation, so they moved to be away from the fighting.”
The prosecution “doesn’t demonstrate that there was a specific order or message from Ntaganda that forced them to move,” she said.
Ms. Buteau also urged judges to dismiss the charges of enlisting, conscripting and using children under the age of 15 because the prosecution had not demonstrated the existence of such children in the group.
She said it was difficult to assess the age of an individual based on their physical appearance. She argued that experts had found that an individual’s growth and appearance could be affected by factors such as poor diet. She asked judges not to take a decision regarding the age of the children who served under Mr. Ntaganda’s group based on photographs and videos provided by the prosecution.
She also pointed to numerous supposed inconsistencies in the testimonies of prosecution witnesses who claimed to have served in the UPC as child soldiers.