Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) this morning recalled a prosecution witness to give further evidence in the trial of Bosco Ntaganda. It is unclear why the former fighter in the militia group where Ntaganda served as a commander was recalled. However, it appears that the ex-militiaman, who is testifying under the pseudonym Witness P888, was to be questioned about his school enrollment records.
All of today’s questioning of Witness P888 by the parties was conducted in closed session. The witness first appeared before judges last Monday and testified that he was recruited in the Union for Congolese Patriots (UPC) during ethnic conflict in Congo’s Ituri province in 2002-2003. He recalled orders the accused gave to recruits to kill civilians from rival ethnic groups. The former fighter also testified about the “difficult” conditions at the group’s training camp at Mandro, including low meal rations, the rape of female recruits, and tasks such as building commanders’ houses.
Meanwhile, yesterday the Deputy Director for the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded giving testimony. Under cross-examination by the defense, Anneke Van Woudenberg whose reports and other documents were tendered into evidence by the prosecution dismissed defense submissions that cast doubt on the credibility of the conclusions contained in her reports regarding atrocities allegedly committed by the UPC.
In one of the reports titled The Curse of Gold, Van Woudenberg details attacks by the UPC against Mongbwalu town and the surrounding areas of Kobu, Lipri, Bambu, and Mbijo during which several civilians were purportedly massacred. In this report and other documents, Ntaganda is said to have led some of the attacks.
According to Van Woudenberg, the conclusions that Ntaganda was in charge were based on interviews with 22 individuals who were either victims or eyewitnesses during the events in Mongbwalu in late 2002 and early 2003. Among those she interviewed and whose accounts she corroborated were former soldiers “with intimate knowledge of the UPC,” civilians, and a gold miner.
In cross-examining the witness, defense lawyer Christopher Gosnell suggested that no more than two individuals out of the 22 provided her with first-hand information in respect to Ntaganda’s role during the attacks on Mongbwalu.
“I wouldn’t agree with you,” responded Van Woudenberg. She added: “Not everyone is always able to see the commander in charge. Twenty-two sources provided information on Ntaganda. Some saw him in the battle, some in the days that followed. Some were told they needed to speak to Ntaganda to get back stolen property. This indicated clearly that Ntaganda has been in charge of the battle at Mongbwalu in November 2002.”
Gosnell also questioned Van Woudenberg about one of 12 photos tendered into evidence by prosecutors. The photo, which was displayed in court, shows a man in a ripped shirt carrying a machete and is captioned ‘A Hema UPC combatant patrolling a village in in Ituri.’
Asked by Gosnell if anything in the individual’s appearance may indicate that he was not a member of the UPC, Von Woundenberg replied that not all combatants involved in the conflict – including those belonging to the UPC – wore uniform. “Some wore half – bottom or top. While it is something that would give one pause, it wouldn’t confirm that he wasn’t a member of the UPC,” she added.
“Did you see members of the UPC dressed like this?” asked Gosnell.
“Yes I did, as I did combatants from other armed groups,” replied Van Woudenberg, who worked as a HRW researcher based in Ituri between July 2002 and the end of 2004.
Judges also heard the testimony of another prosecution witness yesterday and today. Testifying with image and voice distortion in order to conceal his identity, the witness who goes by the pseudonym Witness P877 has so far given most of his evidence in closed session. In the brief moments of open court, Witness P877 has confirmed the accuracy of his statement to prosecutors as well as various sketches drawn by him that depict Mongbwalu airport, Kilo town center ,and Kobu.
Hearings in the trial continue next Monday with further testimony from Witness P877.