Ntaganda Trial Stalls as Witness Fails to Testify

The sixth witness called by the prosecution in the trial of Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) was unable to testify on October 28, 2015 due to undisclosed security reasons.

“The witness cannot testify under the current circumstances,” announced presiding judge Robert Fremr. The judge made the announcement after discussions between parties in the trial, which were conducted in closed session.

It is unclear what the specific security concerns were, but it appears they were related to protective measures. Witnesses that appear before the ICC may sometimes be at risk of reprisal attacks. As a result, the majority of witnesses who have testified at the court have been granted protective measures, such as face and voice distortion and the use of pseudonyms, in order to protect their identities.

Several witnesses have also given most of their evidence in closed session, with the names of individuals, places, and organizations that could give clues to their identity rarely mentioned in open court.

In addition to measures aimed at concealing the identities of witnesses from the public, for some witnesses the court offers psychological support during hearings as well as counseling and security mechanisms such as relocation.

The hearing that was scheduled for October 29 was cancelled. There was no hearing either on October 30, although a new witness other than the one who failed to testify due to security concerns had been expected to take the witness stand.

Ntaganda’s trial at the ICC opened on September 2, 2015. The former deputy military head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in 2002 and 2003 during armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On October 28, Witness P-886 completed giving evidence, most of which was heard in closed session. Since taking the witness stand on October 26, Witness P-886 testified that UPC soldiers “terrorized” civilians during their occupation of Sayo. He said the militia kept prisoners in an underground pit and had child soldiers in their ranks. The witness also recounted the “bad conditions” imposed on the residents of Sayo by another ethnic militia, including forcing women to walk topless.

Before Witness P-886 started his testimony, judges declined to grant him full protective measures. They determined that distorting his voice and image during testimony was unnecessary and only granted him the use of a pseudonym. However, the bulk of Witness P-886’s testimony was heard in closed session.

Hearings are scheduled to continue on Monday, November 2, 2015.