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Status Conference on Ntaganda Trial Set for Next Week

The status conference to set the start date for Congolese military leader Bosco Ntaganda’s International Criminal Court (ICC) trial has been brought forward to next week.

Earlier, judges had set September 18 for the status conference on the date for the commencement of the trial of the former deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). He faces 18 war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during 2002 and 2003 during a conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Trial Chamber IV,which is handling the trial, has rescheduled the conference to September 11. This was after Mr. Ntaganda’s newly appointed lead counsel, Stéphane Bourgon, informed judges that he had a prior engagement for September 18 that would make it difficult for him to attend the scheduled status conference. The chamber consists of judges Robert Fremr (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Geoffrey Henderson.

The status conference was initially set for August 20. However, on August 15, the chamber postponed it to September 18 in order to allow Mr. Ntaganda’s new defense counsel to familiarize himself with the case and take instructions from his client before making submissions on the agenda items.

Mr. Ntaganda surrendered to the court in March 2013, nearly seven years after it issued the first warrant for his arrest. Thomas Lubanga, the former president of the FPLC with whom Mr. Ntaganda was initially indicted, was convicted in 2012 of recruiting, conscripting, and using children under 15 years in armed conflict. Lubanga is appealing the conviction and his14-year prison sentence.

In its written submission on the provisional agenda for the status conference, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) proposed June 2015 as “a realistic date for the commencement of the trial.” It explained that it was in advanced stages of disclosing evidence, including the identities of witnesses to the defense, and conducting further “focused investigations” to collect additional evidence.

The OTP also submitted that it anticipates ongoing security risks for witnesses and other persons and would continue monitoring the security of witnesses and take appropriate action. The prosecution intends to call expert witnesses on the historical context of the case, on sexual violence, trauma, satellite imagery, and forensics, among others.

Accordingly, the proposed 2015 date would allow the OTP sufficient time to conduct discussions with the new defense team regarding agreed facts and joint instructions of expert witnesses. Furthermore, it would allow the OTP to obtain final expert reports, assess materials from further investigations, provide translations where required, and complete the process of transcription of audio and video evidence.

No filings on the trial start date by the defense and victims’ legal representatives have been made public yet.