Trial judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have granted Bosco Ntaganda’s lawyers more time than earlier allocated to question a witness whose testimony the prosecution deems very important to its case.
In granting the defense request for more time, Presiding Judge Robert Fremr acknowledged the technical difficulties experienced by the court during defense cross-examination. The judge also stated that several objections raised by the prosecution during the defense’s questioning of the witness about the locations where the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) conducted operations, had slowed the pace of cross-examination.
The witness, who is testifying under the pseudonym Witness P017, is a former insider in the FPLC in which Ntaganda was a commander. Over the course of his testimony, he has detailed the inner workings of the rebel outfit. Prior to taking the stand, judges granted the former rebel’s request for assurances against self-incrimination during his testimony. He was also granted in-court protective measures, including image and voice distortion during public broadcasts of his evidence.
The defense had initially been granted ten hours to cross-examine the witness, the same amount used by the prosecution for its examination-in-chief. Almost all cross-examination of Witness P017 has been conducted in closed session.
Although Ntaganda’s lawyers had requested two and a half hours extra hours to question the witness, judges granted them one extra hour. They noted that although in principle the prosecution and defense should have the same amount of time to question a witness, Ntaganda’s lawyers had advanced reasons that justified granting of additional time.
In his request for more time to cross-examine Witness P017, defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon said while the prosecution attached much importance to the testimony of this witness, the defense’s questioning of the former insider had not progressed fast enough. This was because of challenges in using systems and devices in the new ICC premises. Bourgon noted that during questioning by the prosecution, the witness had covered almost all aspects of the charges against Ntaganda, and there was a lot of material related to his testimony that the defense was yet to question the witness on.
Ntaganda is on trial over crimes purportedly committed by himself and by soldiers under his command when he served as deputy chief of staff of the FPLC during the 2002-2003 armed conflict in Congo.
During prosecution questioning, Witness P017 testified that girl child soldiers in the FPLC served as bodyguards for the group’s high-ranking commanders and some of them had “involuntary sexual relations” with the commanders. He also said Ntaganda personally continued to pillage the Congolese town of Mongbwalu and recounted how his colleagues executed about 20 women and children shortly after the fighters had killed an unnamed number of men.
The defense continues its cross-examination of the witness tomorrow morning.