Judges have directed the prosecution to reduce the number of witnesses it intends to call to testify against Congolese military general Bosco Ntaganda, whose trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened last September.
Prior to the close of today’s hearing, Presiding Judge Robert Fremr instructed the Office of the Prosecutor to “significantly reduce” the number of its witnesses and inform judges this month what the ultimate number would be.
So far, 31 individuals have provided oral evidence for the prosecution, and, in addition, judges have admitted the written testimony of three other prosecution witnesses. At the start of the trial, the prosecution stated that it would call up to 80 witnesses, but it is not clear how many it still intends to call.
In an interview with the International Justice Monitor last month, defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon described the prosecution witness list as excessive and said some of the witnesses were presenting repetitive evidence, including that which lies beyond the scope of the charges against Ntaganda. Bourgon said the prosecution’s long witness list would force the defense to also call several witnesses to testify to the various evidence given by the prosecution. (The full transcript of the interview with Bourgon will be published later this month).
According to Judge Fremr, the chamber expects the prosecution to complete presenting its evidence during the “first couple of months” of 2017. Judges directed the defense to start preparing its witnesses so that the trial proceeds to the defense phase with limited breaks between each evidentiary bloc. Judges have also directed legal representatives of victims to indicate whether they intend to call any witnesses.
Ntaganda faces the largest number of charges ever to be tried by the ICC – 13 war crimes and five crimes against humanity. They include murder and attempted murder; attacking civilians; rape; sexual slavery of civilians; pillaging; displacement of civilians; attacking protected objects; destroying the enemy’s property; and rape, sexual slavery, enlistment, and conscription of child soldiers under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
In the first trial conducted by the ICC, that of former Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga, the prosecution called 36 witnesses. In the trials of Germain Katanga and Jean-Pierre Bemba, there were 25 and 40 prosecution witnesses respectively.
Among those who have thus far testified in Ntaganda’s trial are three expert witnesses, including a Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Commission of Human Rights on the Democratic Republic of Congo, an expert on Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and a psychotherapist. Others who have testified included crime-based witnesses, insiders in the group which Ntaganda served as commander, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) Director, and Child Protection Manager at the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Earlier today, Witness 769, who started giving evidence in the trial on Monday, completed testifying. The former fighter in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) has provided evidence on the presence of child soldiers in the group, Ntaganda’s role in military campaigns, and the disciplinary measures in the UPC. He said rape and murder were forbidden and soldiers were taught that the role of the soldier was to protect civilians.
Court has broken for the summer recess, and hearings will resume on September 5.