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Trial Continues in Closed Session as Ntaganda’s Hunger Strike Enters Day 12

Today, war crimes accused Bosco Ntaganda’s lawyers conducted their cross-examination of the prosecution’s 39th witness in closed session, as the accused continued his hunger strike. The defense’s questioning of the witness, who goes by the pseudonym Witness P105, was conducted without instructions from the accused, who continues to boycott hearings.

On September 8, judges instructed the defense team to represent Ntaganda’s interests during hearings despite the former rebel leader’s refusal to grant them a mandate to represent him during his absence.

Witness P105 is the third individual to testify since Ntaganda went on hunger strike in protest against ongoing restrictions to his communications and contacts. The protest, which has been ongoing for 12 days, earlier last week saw court officials declare Ntaganda medically unfit to be transported to the courtroom. Whereas a video link was set up at the detention center to enable him follow the proceedings remotely, he only appeared once in the video room to address judges.

At the start of hearings this morning, defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon challenged medical reports by officials of the court’s detention center that stated that Ntaganda was fit to be transported to the courtroom.

“Last week, it was concluded that Ntaganda was not fit to travel. It would be surprising that today he would be found fit to travel to court,” said Bourgon. He added that there was a need for independent psychological and physical examination of the accused.

In a press release issued this morning, Bourgon stated that his client was both physically and mentally “incapable” of attending court hearings. While asking if this is “the kind of justice we want before the International Criminal Court,” the defense lawyer added, “We can’t ignore the absence of the accused whose current state of health is rapidly deteriorating.”

He said there are “possible solutions” to the current situation, including appeal of the judge’s decision on Ntaganda’s communications and contacts. However, he accused the court’s Registry of rejecting defense propositions to allow Ntaganda to see members of his family in “acceptable conditions.”

In oral submissions this morning, prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson called upon judges to sanction Ntaganda for every day that he continues to not attend trial. According to Iverson, Ntaganda was “faking an injury or illness to avoid duty.”

Ntaganda’s trial at the ICC started in September 2015. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.