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Ntaganda Trial Resumes, Witness Mostly Testifies in Closed Session

Hearings in the trial of former Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) resumed on Oct. 20 after a three-week hiatus, but the witness gave most of his evidence in closed session.

The witness, who appears to have been a soldier in the militia of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) because of his knowledge of the group’s internal workings, asked the court to grant him immunity against self-incrimination—a request neither the prosecution nor the defense opposed.

At the start of the hearing, presiding judge Robert Fremr stated that the witness had been granted protective measures, including the use of a pseudonym, as well as face and voice distortion in order to keep his identity secret.

In brief moments of testimony in open session, the witness said UPC commanders, including Ntaganda, condoned pillaging by the group’s soldiers. He spoke of gold that was apparently looted by Ntaganda from the Congolese town of Mongbwalu and transported by his cousin to the UPC headquarters in Bunia.

“Similar to the looting you described involving Ntaganda, did you learn of other commanders involved in pillaging in Mongbwalu?” asked prosecuting lawyer Nicole Samson.

The witness responded that the looting was perpetuated by several UPC fighters, who pillaged a hospital at Nyakunde and looted clothes and other merchandise from shops in Mongbwalu.

However, the witness conceded that he did not personally witness the alleged incidents of looting that he was recounting.

“I wasn’t there when looting took place but when they [UPC commanders] arrived after the Nzebi battle and the battle in Sayo, they had suitcases,” said the witness. He added, “Their bodyguards were carrying suitcases and some of them were carrying boxes of beer bottles and I was told that those items came from the shops in the center of Mongbwalu.”

The witness also stated that he saw the corpses of “many civilians,” including women and children, who had been killed during fighting. He could tell they were civilians because, unlike Lendu combatants who fought against the UPC, civilians did not carry weapons or wear animal skins and fetishes.

The witness said he saw the corpses when he travelled to Sayo on the third day that UPC forces battled Lendu combatants there. He said Ntaganda was in the town during those battles.

Ntaganda, who was deputy chief of staff of the UPC militia, faces a total of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity (including murder, rape, sex slavery, and pillaging, among others), allegedly committed during 2002 and 2003. The alleged crimes were committed during ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri district.

So far, three witnesses have completed their testimony in the trial. They are Witness P-0901, a former UPC insider; Witness P-0805, who testified about massacres of Lendu civilians; and expert witness Roberto Garretón—also known as Witness P-0931—a former Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Commission for Human Rights on human rights in the DRC. The prosecution plans to call an additional eight witnesses by November 30, 2015.

Hearings in the trial continue Oct. 21.