The trial of Congolese military leader Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will open on June 2, 2015, according to a notice issued today by judges.
Mr. Ntaganda, who has been in the custody of the court since surrendering in March 2013, faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The crimes were allegedly committed while he served as the deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) during the 2002-2003 ethnic conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Pre-trial judges last June confirmed 18 charges against Mr. Ntaganda and committed him to trial. However, while the trial had been expected to start by early 2015, the prosecution asked for more time to complete ongoing “focused investigations” to collect additional evidence and to comply with its obligations to disclose evidence to the defense.
In the order setting the trial opening date, judges said delays by the prosecution to complete investigations and disclose evidence, the volume of the case, and the fact that the defense lead counsel was replaced in August 2014 made it “realistic” to start the trial in June 2015 as suggested by the prosecution.
Trial judges also noted that in order for the defense to prepare adequately for the trial, it was essential for the prosecution to complete its disclosure obligations by March 2, 2015. They directed that disclosure should take place on a rolling basis. The judges said it was reasonable for the defense to request that the trial opens three months after full disclosure by the prosecution.
Mr. Ntaganda was indicted in 2006 along with Thomas Lubanga, the head of the FPLC’s political wing who became the first person to be tried and convicted by the ICC. He was convicted in March 2012 of recruiting, conscripting, and using children under the age of 15 in armed conflict. Mr. Lubanga is appealing the conviction and the 14-year prison sentence, contending that he was a political, not military, leader and that he worked tirelessly to demobilize child soldiers from the FPLC.
For nearly seven after the court issued the first warrant for his arrest, Mr. Ntaganda evaded justice, serving alternately as a commander with the Congolese government armed forces and as leader of rebel groups that terrorized eastern Congo.
Trial Chamber VI, which will try Mr. Ntaganda, is composed of judges Robert Fremr (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Geoffrey Henderson.
The five counts of crimes against him are murder and attempted murder; rape; sexual slavery; persecution; and forcible transfer of population. He also faces 13 counts of war crimes: 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 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
In the decision confirming the charges against Mr. Ntaganda, pre-trial judges determined that Mr. Ntaganda bore 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 pre-trial judges also determined that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Ntaganda shot dead a priest and personally attacked and persecuted civilians, pillaged, and attacked protected objects. He also allegedly enlisted children under the age of 15 years to take part in active combat.
A status conference has been scheduled for October 17 to discuss the progress of preparation for trial. Judges have asked parties to the trial to provide views on whether besides the decision of the pre-trial chamber on the confirmation of charges, an updated version of the document containing the charges is warranted as an authoritative statement of the charges for the purposes of the trial.