Bosco Ntaganda’s defense lawyers say they are not ready to cross-examine three prosecution witnesses who are scheduled to testify between this week and the end of the month. However, their pleas to have the testimony of these witnesses postponed have been rejected by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges.
At the start of today’s hearing, Stéphane Bourgon, who heads Ntaganda’s defense, said his team had suffered setbacks due to his own ill-health and the unavailability of co-counsel Luc Boutin. For about two weeks, Boutin has been unavailable for reasons not stated in public by the lead defense lawyer. He is expected to rejoin the defense team in the second week of March.
“Three witnesses are about to testify…the small but highly qualified defense team is not in position to cross-examine the witnesses,” Bourgon said. He added that whereas he had been able to cross-examine the last two witnesses in place of his colleague, because of his ill health he had not prepared for the cross-examination of the upcoming witnesses. He also said the time between the end of Witness P017’s testimony last Thursday and the testimony of Witness P290, who took the stand today, was insufficient for the under-staffed defense team to prepare its cross-examination.
Last Friday and again on Monday this week, hearings were cancelled due to Bourgon’s ill health and the absence of another lawyer with the mandate to represent Ntaganda during hearings. In court today, Bourgon said he had another appointment with his doctor tomorrow.
“In a case such as this one when the accused is facing serious charges and some witnesses are coming with false evidence, there’s a need to investigate this evidence and not focus only on the examination-in-chief,” said the defense lawyer. He added that their investigations – earlier hampered by inability to secure field investigators – only resumed last month.
Judge Robert Fremr noted that although the chamber had “deeply considered” the troubles the defense team was experiencing, they needed to ensure a fair and expeditious trial. He added: “We still believe it should be possible to conduct cross-examination as intended.”
The judge said since the defense was aware of the hearings schedule for some time, it should have made earlier preparations for cross-examination. He noted that only a part of the cross-examination is based on listening to the witness.
Prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson opposed any postponement, arguing that “some pretty routine preparation” by the defense could have happened in advance of the testimony by the witnesses.
After affirming that Witness P290 would begin testifying today as scheduled, Judge Fremr said once the prosecution completes questioning the witness, judges would ask the defense if it was ready to cross-examine him. “It is still possible for the defense to call this witness [at a later stage] but I can’t confirm that we will grant this because generally reasons for such a measure should be very strong,” the judge added.
All questioning of Witness P290 has been conducted in closed session. Judges granted him protective measures, including the use of a pseudonym, as well as image and voice distortion during public broadcasts of his evidence. Judges also granted his request for assurances against self-incrimination during his testimony.
Ntaganda’s trial on 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity opened last September. Witness P290 is the eleventh individual to testify in the trial of the 80 witnesses the prosecution earlier stated that it intended to call.
Witness P290 continues his testimony tomorrow.