The 53rd individual to testify against Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) concluded giving her evidence yesterday, all of which was heard in closed session. Court officials have withheld the court-given pseudonym for the witness, who testified over three days, as an additional measure to protect her identity.
Since the opening of the trial in September of last year, a significant amount of prosecution evidence has been heard in closed session. In justifying requests for protective measures, the prosecution often cites fears of reprisals against witnesses, Ntaganda’s continued influence in his home area, and the volatile security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In most cases, except for one last December, judges have found that “objectively justifiable risks” exist with respect to the safety and well-being of the witnesses and their families, which warranted their shielding from the public.
Increasingly, Ntaganda’s lawyers have opposed protective measures for prosecution witnesses. For instance, on November 16 the defense filed a submission opposing protective measures for a witness whose pseudonym was redacted from documents made public. Stéphane Bourgon, the lead defense lawyer, argued that the prosecution had not substantiated the kind of intimidation the witness was experiencing and contended that the information provided by the prosecution showed that the supposed intimidation was “nothing more than public criticism.”
“Removing the trial from public view as a reaction to such criticism is not in the interests of justice. Furthermore, no credible information has ever been placed before the Trial Chamber that any Prosecution witness has faced retaliation for their testimony,” argued Bourgon. He noted that requests for protective measures had become so routine in the Ntaganda case that the prosecution no longer bothered to provide affirmation from witnesses indicating the fears meriting such requests or the risks confirming such fears.
Whereas it is unclear whether judges have ruled on the defense’s latest opposition to protective measures for the unnamed witness, earlier this month judges rejected defense objections and granted such protections to a separate witness. The judges determined that the witness was recognizable because of their current and former role and also noted past allegations of intimidation faced by the family of the witness and attempts to dissuade the witness from testifying. Moreover, the judges agreed with victims’ lawyers about rising security risks in the country where the witness resides.
Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that were allegedly committed while he was deputy military head of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). The purported crimes were committed against civilians in Congo’s Ituri district during ethnic conflict in 2002 and 2003.
Hearings are scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.