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Start Date for Ntaganda’s ICC Trial to be Known Soon

Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have called for a status conference to set the date for the commencement of the trial of Bosco Ntaganda, the former deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).

The order is in accordance with Article 132 of the court’s rules, which states that promptly after it is constituted, the trial chamber shall hold a status conference in order to set the date of the trial. Trial Chamber IV consisting of Judges Robert Fremr (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Geoffrey Henderson was constituted by the court’s presidency on July 18 to try Mr. Ntaganda for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The crimes, including murder, attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, forced transfer of the population, displacement of civilians, attacks against protected objects, pillaging, destruction of property, and use of child soldiers were allegedly committed by the FPLC and its political wing, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) against the non-Hema population of Congo’s Ituri province between August 2002 and May 2003.

Besides setting the trial start date, the provisional agenda for the status conference includes discussions on the protection of witnesses, disclosure of identities of witnesses, as well as referrals to the court’s witness protection program, and whether the parties intend to call expert witnesses. Also to be discussed are issues related to the confidentiality of documents, victims’ applications and the procedure for their participation in the proceedings, evidence to be introduced as regards the agreed facts, and the languages to be used in the proceedings.

The status conference was initially set for this Wednesday, August 20, and parties and participants were invited to file observations by August 14. However, on July 21, the chamber postponed the status conference to September 18 in order to allow Mr. Ntaganda’s new defense counsel time to familiarize himself with the case and take instructions from his client before making submissions on the agenda items.

Last month, Marc Desalliers, who had been representing Mr. Ntaganda since his surrender to the court, requested to step down from the case citing “irreconcilable views” with his client. In her authorization of Mr. Dessaliers’ request to step down, pre-trial Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova instructed the defense lawyer to continue representing the accused until the appointment of a new counsel. Stéphane Bourgon was last week appointed new lead defense counsel for Mr. Ntaganda.

The amended date for the status conference takes into consideration the hand over of the case to the new lawyer and a “period of transition” to enable him adequately prepare for the status conference.

In light of the postponement, the trial chamber instructed the prosecution to file updated observations on the provisional agenda by September 12. The defense also has until September 12 to file its written submissions.