With a week to the opening of Bosco Ntaganda’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), his lawyers have made a last-minute appeal to judges to delay the trial. They said “prevailing circumstances” make it impossible for the proceedings against the former Congolese military leader to be fair.
In a June 29, 2015 submission, Stéphane Bourgon, the lead defense lawyer, stated that the defense was not ready to make an opening statement next week or to conduct cross-examinations of the first prosecution witnesses expected to take the stand at the end of August.
The filing was heavily redacted, making it difficult to establish the precise reasons why the defense was requesting the postponement at this late hour. The defense argued that it had not been given adequate time and resources to prepare for trial and that going ahead with the planned schedule in the circumstances would indicate bias on the part of the chamber. The defense said it had been unable to conduct investigations, including assessing the credibility of some witnesses the prosecution has said it would rely on “intensively,” to take a position on the probative value attached to the testimony of those witnesses, or lay out the defense strategy.
“Preparing for cross-examination involves not only analyzing the material disclosed by the prosecution, but also – and more importantly – comparing the same with the result of defense investigations,” said Mr. Bourgon.
In response to the defense submission, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the prosecution was not opposed to a “reasonable delay” to the start of the trial, including the opening statements, if judges deemed the defense’s reasons sufficient to warrant an adjournment.
She said a reasonable adjournment would give the defense an opportunity to complete undisclosed investigations before the trial opens. “To this end, the prosecution proposes that the trial commences on September 7, 2015. This allows a two month delay for opening statements and the prosecution’s first three witnesses,” wrote Ms. Bensouda.
The prosecution also proposed that once the first three witnesses have been heard, the trial could adjourn until October 19, 2015, the date currently set for the second evidentiary block.
Last month, judges rejected a defense application to appeal the decision to go ahead with the July 7 trial opening date. In an initial request for a postponement last April, Mr. Bourgon cited 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.
The latest defense application states that, ahead of the trial opening, it lacks time and resources to sufficiently address the issues it has raised or to adopt and implement a defense theory unless judges make a determination on certain undisclosed issues.
Judges Robert Fremr (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Chang-ho Chung are yet to rule on the defense request. However, according to the court’s calendar, a status conference is scheduled for this Friday, July 3, at 1:30pm local time in The Hague.
Editors note: The third paragraph has been edited from the original version removing references to the disclosure of witnesses because it was not explicitly cited in the defense filing.