Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have asked judges not to release Bosco Ntaganda, the Congolese military leader who faces 18 charges at the world court.
They submitted that his continued detention was necessary to ensure his appearance at trial and the safety and security of witnesses in the lead up to trial.
“Mr. Ntaganda continues to have influence and strong support in the Congo. Taken together with the seriousness of the charges against him and his documented history of violence, the risk of the accused exerting pressure and intimidation on witnesses will increase if he were released,” said prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson.
Ms. Samson was speaking at a hearing convened on Thursday to seek observations on the periodic review of the release or continued detention of the accused. Judges requested submissions on any changes in circumstances since the previous ruling on Mr. Ntaganda’s detention.
According to Ms. Samson, the June 2014 confirmation of charges decision and the October 2014 notice setting a trial opening date of June 2, 2015 made it “likely” that Mr. Ntaganda could abscond. She added that the likelihood to flee was raised by the conviction and 14 year sentence handed to Thomas Lubanga for “only part of the charges” faced by Mr. Ntaganda.
On March 18, 2013, Mr. Ntaganda walked into the American embassy in Rwanda and asked to be transferred to The Hague where two arrest warrants had been issued against him. The first warrant – issued in 2006 – alleged that Mr. Ntaganda, along with Mr. Lubanga, recruited, enlisted, and used child soldiers in armed conflict during 2002 and 2003.
The former deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Front for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) is facing 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed by himself and his troops in Congo’s Ituri province.
Lawyers representing victims in the trial noted that “never before has an accused person faced so many charges” before the ICC. They said victims had expressed fears relating to their safety and stability in the region if the accused were released. Mr. Ntaganda’s continued detention was thus “even more necessary than before.”
Defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon said he had no observations to make regarding changes in circumstances. However, he noted that submissions made by prosecutors and victims’ lawyers were not changes in circumstances but issues that had been litigated and addressed in the past.
Mr. Bourgon stated that Mr. Ntaganda was fully aware of the seriousness of the charges against him and was ready to contest them at trial.
He said although it was true that the accused had access to evidence and witness identities, he had this information before the confirmation decision. Mr. Bourgon added: “This is not a change in circumstances affecting whether he should or shouldn’t remain in pre-trial detention.”
Mr. Bourgon said claims about his client’s influence in Congo were based on “anonymous hearsay and probative value accorded to anonymous evidence.”
Presiding Judge Robert Fremr stated that the chamber would render its decision on the matter by November 14, 2014.