The 40th individual to testify against Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has today concluded giving evidence, with most of his testimony spanning three days heard in closed session. In the brief moments of open court, the testimony of the witness related to the presence of child soldiers within the ranks of the Union for Congolese Patriots (UPC).
According to the witness, child soldiers were denied food as punishment for disobedience, while others were beaten. “They could also be flogged. It didn’t matter where – buttocks, back, or stomach. I saw this with my own eyes in 2002,” recounted the witness. He said another type of punishment that he did not personally witness but heard of involved keeping the children submerged in water “up to their necks” overnight.
It is unclear under what circumstances the witness, who testified with protective measures including image and voice distortion, as well as the use of a pseudonym in order to conceal his identity, witnessed the alleged events. However, he seems to have intimate knowledge of the working of the UPC, including which commanders had child soldiers among their body guards and at which camps the commanders were based, which suggests that he may have been a member of the group.
Ntaganda, who was deputy chief of staff of the UPC militia, faces a total of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 2002 and 2003 during ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri district.
At the opening of the Ntaganda trial last September, the prosecution said it would call more than 80 witnesses. While maintaining its expected number of witnesses, the prosecution last month moved to reduce the time it will take presenting its case. 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.
The move followed a direction by judges to the prosecution to “significantly reduce” the number of witnesses it intended to call in order to expedite the trial. Ntaganda’s lawyers have criticized the number of prosecution witnesses, claiming some of them were presenting hearsay or repetitive evidence, which would make the trial longer.
Hearings continue on Monday next week with the testimony of a new prosecution witness who goes by the pseudonym Witness P127.