Marc Desalliers, who has been the lead defense lawyer for Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC), has been allowed to step down from the case, after he cited irreconcilable differences with the former Congolese military leader.
The decision comes just as the court’s presidency constituted the chamber that will handle the trial of Mr. Ntaganda for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Trial Chamber VI consists of Judges Robert Fremr (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Geoffrey Henderson.
Mr. Ntaganda, who allegedly served as the deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), surrendered to the court in March of last year, nearly seven years after the court issued the first warrant for his arrest.
In his July 14, 2014 application for authorization to withdraw, Mr. Desalliers – who has been lead counsel for Mr. Ntaganda since April 2013 – stated that he and the accused had developed “irreconcilable views” on the conduct of his defense. He did not elaborate on the differences.
On July 16, pre-trial chamber judge Ekaterina Trendafilova authorized Mr. Desalliers to withdraw from the case. However, he would continue representing Mr. Ntaganda until a new lawyer is appointed.
The judge stated that notwithstanding his withdrawal, the defense lawyer remained “bound by the obligations of professional secrecy, confidentiality, conservation of case-related files and transmission of the same to the replacement counsel.”
On June 9, 2014, pre-trial judges confirmed 18 charges brought against Mr. Ntaganda by the ICC prosecutor. Judges also found that Mr. Ntaganda bears individual criminal responsibility as direct perpetrator, indirect co-perpetrator, and military commander for crimes committed by the FPLC against the non-Hema civilian population of Congo’s Ituri province. The crimes were allegedly committed between August 2002 and May 2003.
Pre-trial judges found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the accused shot dead a priest and personally attacked and persecuted civilians, pillaged, and attacked protected objects in Sayo and Mongbwalu localities. It was also found that he appropriated a Land Cruiser jeep and other items from Mongbwalu parish, medical equipment and medication from a hospital, and various items from a church. He also allegedly enlisted children under the age of 15 years to take part in active combat.
The confirmed counts of war crimes against Mr. Ntaganda are murder and attempted murder; attacking civilians; rape; sexual slavery of civilians; pillaging; displacement of civilians; attacking protected objects; and destroying the enemy’s property. Others are rape, sexual slavery, enlistment and conscription of child soldiers under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
The crimes against humanity charges are murder and attempted murder; rape; sexual slavery; persecution; and forcible transfer of population.
In 2013, the former head of the FPLC, Thomas Lubanga, was found guilty by the ICC of enlisting, recruiting, and using child soldiers in armed conflict and sentenced to 14 years in jail. He is appealing his conviction and sentence.
Constituting Trial Chamber VI paves the way for commencement of trial proceedings in the Ntaganda case.