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Prosecution Moves to Make Ntaganda Trial Shorter

The prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has moved to reduce the time it will take presenting its case against former Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda but has maintained a witness list of 89 individuals. Besides examining witnesses for fewer hours than earlier planned, the prosecution will ask judges to admit the prior recorded testimony of some witnesses, rather than ask them to testify before the court.

Last month, judges directed the prosecution to “significantly reduce” the number of witnesses it intended to call in order to expedite the trial. The trial, which opened last September, has so far heard the oral testimony of 31 individuals and judges have admitted the written testimony of three additional prosecution witnesses.

In a July 29 filing, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that, as directed by the trial chamber, the prosecution has reduced the total time estimate for examining and cross-examining its remaining witnesses by approximately one quarter. The prosecution had reduced its examination time by 65 hours, and it expected the length of the defense cross-examination to reduce similarly. Bensouda said that, in order to further expedite the trial, the prosecution would continue to monitor the progress of the presentation of its evidence and look for additional opportunities to reduce the length of its case.

She noted that the prosecution would ask judges to admit the prior recorded testimony of several witnesses under Rule 68 of the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Under this rule, if a witness who gave the previously recorded testimony is not present before the court, judges may allow the introduction of that testimony if it is not related to the acts and conduct of the accused.

In Ntaganda’s case, many of the witnesses whose evidence is covered under Rule 68 testified in the trial of Thomas Lubanga, the former head of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), an armed group where Ntaganda was a top commander. Lubanga is serving a 14-year prison sentence for recruiting, enlisting, and using child soldiers in armed conflict.

The prosecution’s witness list remains long, as it has 55 individuals that are yet to be called. Of these, six would not appear at all before the court, while seven would be examined for a maximum of two hours before the prosecution asks judges to admit their prior evidence. The prosecution would examine the rest for periods ranging from two to 10 hours.

Should judges approve this list, the prosecution will have a record 89 witnesses giving evidence against Ntaganda. This number of witnesses could be justified by the numerous charges Ntaganda faces – 13 war crimes and five crimes against humanity. The prosecution has called fewer witnesses in the trials already concluded: Lubanga (36), Germain Katanga (25), and Jean-Pierre Bemba (40).

At the opening of the Ntaganda trial, the prosecution said it would call more than 80 witnesses. Three months ago, judges directed the prosecution to review the number of witnesses and the time estimates for examination so that the remaining testimony focused on those topics of greatest relevance to the proceedings, minimized cumulative evidence on aspects which had been testified to by multiple previous witnesses,” and considered the use of Rule 68 in appropriate cases.

Ntaganda’s lawyers have criticized the number of prosecution witnesses, stating in an interview with International Justice Monitor that some of them were presenting hearsay or repetitive evidence. This, they argued, would make the trial longer.

The trial resumes on September 5.