The first witness to testify in the trial of former Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda is scheduled to start giving evidence today, September 15. The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has lined up more than 80 individuals to testify against Ntaganda, who faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Among those the prosecution has lined up to testify are expert witnesses, insiders who worked with Ntaganda, as well as victims and eyewitnesses. The prosecution will also rely on forensic evidence from exhumed bodies, communication logs, letters, videos, and photos from training camps to convince judges that Ntaganda committed the alleged crimes he is charged with.
Ntaganda, the former deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), is alleged to have committed the crimes charged during 2002 and 2003. At the time, the FPLC was one of the militia groups involved in an ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri province. The ICC prosecutor says that the conflict directly resulted into the deaths of up to 5,000 people.
Although the Ntaganda trial will have the largest number of witnesses of any trial conducted by the ICC, several of them will provide testimony in closed session. Some witnesses are likely to provide all of their testimony in closed session.
Judges have already determined that 11 witnesses who had in-court protective measures as they testified against former FPLC commander-in-Chief Thomas Lubanga should have similar protections in the Ntaganda trial so as to preserve their anonymity. These measures include image and voice distortion and the use of a pseudonym during testimony.
The prosecution had argued that the protective measures ordered by judges who tried Lubanga were still necessary and needed to be maintained by the chamber trying Ntaganda. In justifying the protective measures, the prosecution cited the security situation of the witnesses and also stated that six of them were participating in the ICC witness protection program.
The defense did not oppose the request to offer the 11 witnesses protective measures. However, during the presentation of opening statements on September 3, defense lawyers criticized the planned use of closed sessions during the testimony of some witnesses, which they argued would deny Ntaganda a right to a public trial and undermine efforts to establish the truthfulness of testimony.
Witness testimony is scheduled for all of this week and next week in The Hague.