Bosco Ntaganda is pushing for restrictions imposed on his communications and contacts at the International Criminal Court (ICC) detention center to be relaxed. Since March 2015, the former Congolese rebel leader is limited to one hour per week of monitored telephone calls. He is permitted to speak to his children through his wife, and he can record messages to be played to the seven children after review of their content by the court’s Registry.
On September 8, Ntaganda went on hunger strike in protest against a decision by trial judges to maintain the restrictions imposed on him last year when judges found reasonable grounds to believe that he personally engaged in witness coaching and also directed his associates to do so.
In the order maintaining the restrictions, the judges determined that because more than 50 prosecution witnesses were yet to testify, and in view of preparations for the defense case, the risk of witness interference and witness coaching remained high. In protest, the accused went on hunger strike and refused to attend hearings for two weeks. He ended the boycott of hearings after court officials arranged for his wife to visit him for eight days in conditions he deemed acceptable.
The defense has now taken its case to appeals judges, whom it is asking to end the restrictions. Defense lawyers have suggested that, as a minimum interim measure, Ntaganda’s allotment of telephone calls per week should be increased two hours but still subject to active monitoring by court officials.
Under restrictions imposed on Ntaganda last year, his telephone communications are only permitted with two individuals, are actively monitored, and are limited in duration, language, and subject matter, with the use of coded language or discussion of case-related matters prohibited.
In the appeal, lead defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon argued that the continuation of restrictions is not “necessary and proportionate” to the trial chamber’s stated objectives of ensuring the safety of witnesses, preventing breaches of confidentiality and ensuring the integrity of proceedings.
Bourgon said that allegations by witnesses that they were intimidated long after Ntaganda was subject to the active monitoring were not reasonable grounds for continuing the restrictions. Moreover, he added, judges “erred in finding that there were any reasonable grounds to conclude that there was any prospect of witness coaching at Mr. Ntaganda’s instigation.” He denied that Ntaganda played any part in witness interference or disclosure of witness identities while he was under monitoring.
Meanwhile, the prosecution has asked appeals judges to maintain the restrictions, terming them lawful, necessary and proportionate, because Ntaganda violated both the chamber’s orders and detention center regulations. It added: “Indeed, Mr. Ntaganda’s misconduct, and the continuing threat he poses to the safety of witnesses, confidentiality of information and the integrity of the proceedings, ensure that the restrictions on his contacts are as indispensable today as they were when they were first imposed.”
The prosecution also stated that Ntaganda’s appeal minimizes the gravity and pervasive extent of the alleged witness interference that led to continuing the restrictions. The appeal “wrongly suggests” that the chamber’s assessment should have been limited to the two witnesses whose identity Ntaganda disclosed and who had testified, yet the witness interference allegations extended “far beyond” those two witnesses and affected both prosecution and defense witnesses.
Judges are yet to rule on the appeal. Ntaganda has been on trial at the ICC since September 2015 on 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Hearings in the trial resumed today after a three-week break, with the testimony of Witness P-976, who mostly testified in private session.