With just two months to the scheduled opening of the trial of Congolese military commander Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC), his lawyers have asked judges for a five month postponement, stating that the “the defense is plainly not able to be ready” by June.
Among the reasons cited by the defense were the delayed disclosure of the identity of numerous prosecution witnesses, the “exceptional” volume of material disclosed by the prosecution, and the inability by the defense to secure the services of suitable investigators.
According to defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon’s April 2 application, adequate defense preparation for a fair trial “requires full knowledge and understanding of the prosecution’s case, a meaningful opportunity to effectively investigate, the necessary human and financial resources, and sufficient time.”
However, four of the five members of the current defense team had no prior knowledge of the situation in Congo, where the war crimes and crimes against humanity that Mr. Ntaganda is accused of were allegedly committed.
Last July, Marc Desalliers stepped down as lead defense lawyer for Mr. Ntaganda after he cited irreconcilable differences with the accused over the conduct of the defense case. His departure was followed by that of two senior legal assistants on the case.
Mr. Bourgon said material disclosed by the prosecution since January 15 of this year, which tripled the number of documents in the possession of the defense team, as well as the number of new prosecution witnesses announced make it impossible for the defense to acquire the minimum required understanding of the prosecution’s case by the June 2 start date. As of March, 7,837 items of evidence comprising 58,805 pages had been disclosed. They include 65 new videos with a total duration of 104 hours and 31 minutes.
Moreover, an additional 1,104 additional items of what the prosecution called incriminating evidence, most of them directly related to new prosecution witnesses, was recently disclosed to the defense. According to the defense, since last January the prosecution had added 29 new witnesses to its list and had not disclosed the identities of four of them.
“The inability of the defense to review the vast quantity of material recently disclosed by the prosecution – including the material related to more than 20 new witnesses – has significantly impeded and continues to impact the capacity of the defense to effectively investigate the prosecution’s case,” stated Mr. Bourgon.
He said defense investigations had also been seriously handicapped by the delayed disclosure of the identity of numerous witnesses and by the quantity of redactions applied to the material disclosed by the prosecution.
Mr. Ntaganda is scheduled to go to trial at the ICC in June for crimes he allegedly committed during 2002 and 2003 while he was the deputy chief of staff of the rebel group, Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). He is charged with directly perpetrating and indirectly co-perpetrating murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, and using child soldiers, among other crimes.
Last month, judges recommended to the court’s presidency that the opening of the trial takes place in the eastern Congo town of Bunia, where the FPLC was based. This would be in line with the court’s aim to take justice closer to the victims of the cases it tries.
The accused was a central figure in the conflicts that rocked eastern Congo from early in the late 1990s to 2013, oscillating between commanding rebel forces to working as a commander in the national army.
Judges are yet to pronounce themselves on the defense request for the trial opening to be postponed.