After a month-long hiatus, hearings in the trial of Bosco Ntaganda resumed today at the International Criminal Court (ICC) with the testimony of the 20th witness to testify for the prosecution. Most of the evidence by the witness, who testified under the pseudonym Witness P190, was heard in closed session.
In the brief moments of open court, Witness P190 recounted combat operations by troops led by Ntaganda in various towns of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during 2002-2003. The towns, some of which were besieged for reasons the witness described as financial gain, included Mabanga and Mongbwalu. Witness P190, who was under questioning by prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson, said for each of the attacks there were numerous causalities, including civilians.,
“The goal of the Mabanga operation was to get money basically. Mabanga was composed of several different tribes and they were gold diggers,” he said, then added: “[The] purpose was to chase them away. Anyone who resisted was killed by Bosco’s troops.”
The witness said the operation in Mabanga was initiated by Ntaganda. He also recalled that, during the takeover of the mining town of Mongbwalu, “a lot of civilians died,” including women and children. It was not clear from today’s testimony whether this witness was a fighter with Ntaganda’s militia.
According to prosecutors, Witness P190 is expected to provide “direct” evidence about Ntaganda’s role in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and on the accused’s acts and conduct in relation to a “significant” number of the 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity he is on trial for.
In a request seeking in-court protective measures for this witness, prosecutors stated that he was “highly identifiable,” thus warranting “extra caution” during his testimony. Prosecutors argued that the use of a pseudonym as well as image and voice distortion during public transmission of the Witness P190’s testimony were necessary to ensure that he gave evidence without fear of his personal safety and security or that of his family. Furthermore, the measures would protect his psychological well-being, dignity, privacy, and avoid the need for intrusive protective measures for the witness and his relatives after completion of testimony.
The defense opposed the prosecution’s request, stating that there were no “objectively justifiable risks” to the safety of the witness. For their part, lawyers representing victims in the trial supported the protective measures sought by the prosecution.
In a June 3, 2016 ruling granting the witness protective measures, judges noted that they took into consideration an assessment by the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU), which indicated an increased risk to the safety and security of the witness if he were to testify publicly.
“The Chamber is satisfied that in the present situation, an objectively justifiable risk exists with respect to the Witness and his family which warrants the protection of the Witness’s identity from the public,” stated the judges. The judges added that the need for closed sessions or redactions to public records would be determined during the course of Witness P190’s testimony.
Ntaganda served as the deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the armed wing of the UPC that was headed by Thomas Lubanga. The group’s fighters allegedly committed atrocities in Congo’s Ituri district during ethnic conflicts between 2002 and 2003. Ntaganda has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him in the trial that commenced last September.
Witness P190 continues giving evidence tomorrow morning.