International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have ordered former Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda to be present in the courtroom when hearings in his trial resume next week, following two days in which Ntaganda refused to attend scheduled hearings and went on a hunger strike to show his dissatisfaction with a judicial order that maintains restrictions on his communications and contacts.
“The chamber does not see a legitimate basis for the continued absence of the accused from the courtroom. He is expected to be in court next Tuesday morning,” Judge Robert Fremr, who presides over the trial, ordered today. Should Ntaganda fail to appear, judges will “instruct the registry that he be brought to court.”
Judge Fremr also stated that if Ntaganda feels that he is not in a position to attend hearings next week, his lawyers will need to file a request for him to be excused on legitimate grounds. “The chamber warns Ntaganda that in the absence of substantiated requests to be excused, the chamber will be forced to consider continued absence as an attempt to disrupt proceedings and refusal to comply with orders, which may result in sanctions,” warned the judge.
Thursday morning’s hearing was adjourned to enable lead defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon to visit Ntaganda at the ICC detention center after Ntaganda communicated that he would not attend the session. Ntaganda again declined to go to the court and also refused to authorize any member of his defense team to represent him during his absence. Subsequently, judges made what they termed an “exceptional” decision to order Bourgon to represent the interests of the accused as proceedings continued in his absence.
Ntaganda, the former deputy chief of staff of the Union for Congolese Patriots, is on trial for 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, and use of child soldiers. The alleged crimes, which Ntaganda denies, were committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri district during 2002 and 2003.
The ruling that maintains restrictions on Ntaganda’s contacts and communications is intended to protect witnesses, prevent breaches of confidentiality, and ensure the integrity of the proceedings. The restrictions were initially imposed in August of last year after judges found reasonable grounds to believe that Ntaganda personally engaged in witness coaching and directed his associates to do the same.
The ICC trial, which has recently focused on the evidence from forensic pathologists involved in exhuming and analyzing human remains at three sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is scheduled to resume on Tuesday, September 13.