Bosco Ntaganda’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has begun a four-week break after Witness P792 concluded giving evidence. Most of Witness P792’s two-day testimony was heard in closed session.
In the brief moments of open court, the witness recounted an attack by Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia on the Congolese town of Mongbwalu in November 2002, which forced “more than 10,000” residents, including himself, to flee to the bush. The witness stayed in the bush for three months until March 2003. When he returned, he learned that many people had been killed by the militia.
Witness P792 testified with protective measures, including the distortion of his voice and image during public re-transmissions of his testimony, and he gave most of his evidence in closed session. He took the stand yesterday afternoon, after Witness P301, whose two-day evidence was also mostly heard in closed session.
Ntaganda, a former deputy chief of staff of the armed wing of the UPC, is charged with 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity. The crimes, including rape, murder, pillaging, attacking civilians, sexual slavery, and the use of child soldiers in armed hostilities, were allegedly committed during 2002 and 2003 while the militia attempted to drive non-Hema ethnic groups from parts of Congo’s Ituri province.
Prior to the start of the trial in September 2015, judges ruled that hearings would be scheduled in blocks of five to six weeks at a time, followed by breaks of up to two weeks. At the time, Presiding Judge Robert Fremr said a schedule of this nature would facilitate the work of the parties and ensure that the trial is conducted in an efficient manner.
Holding the trial in evidentiary blocks with breaks in between was also necessitated by the need to give Ntaganda’s defense team sufficient time to conduct investigations necessary to challenge the prosecution case. In a recent interview, defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon praised the evidentiary blocks system, although he noted that pressure is imposed on the parties to complete the testimony of all witnesses scheduled to testify during any particular block. “The evidentiary blocks used in this case proved to be very helpful. Honestly, without the evidentiary block system, we would not have been able to catch up with the prosecution,” he said.
Before adjourning, Judge Fremr announced that hearings would resume on November 7, 2016.