The Ntaganda trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has mostly been conducted in closed session this week, as the only witness to take the witness stand gave testimony that court officials feared could reveal his identity.
Testifying under the pseudonym Witness P815, the Congolese national testified about crimes reportedly committed by fighters from the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), in which Ntaganda was a top commander, during the 2002-2003 conflict in Ituri district in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
During questioning by the prosecution, the witness gave a small portion of his evidence in open session. However, his cross-examination by the defense was conducted in closed session. In the brief testimony he gave in open court, the witness recounted pillaging by UPC fighters in eastern Congo towns including Mongbwalu, Sayo, and Mahagi. He also said he heard that troops from the group were raping girls in the villages they occupied.
In trials at the ICC, closed sessions are often required when there is a need to protect the identity of witnesses and their families. Additional protective measures, such as the use of a pseudonym, as well as voice and image distortion in rebroadcasts of the testimony by the witness, are put in place to avoid witnesses being subjected to reprisal attacks for participating in the trial.
According to Witness P815, the victims of the UPC attacks were predominantly civilians belonging to the Lendu ethnic group. The trial against Ntaganda began last September. He is facing 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the court based in The Hague and is being tried as a direct perpetrator and indirect co-perpetrator of the crimes.
The trial is scheduled to continue this Monday, April 11.