The trial of Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda has today gone on winter recess after hearing the evidence of the 11th expert witness to testify for the prosecution. The evidence of Dr. Lynn Lawry, an epidemiologist, centered around sexual violence committed in Congo’s Ituri district during 2000-2005.
In 2010, Lawry conducted a survey among 998 households in various locations in the Congo on human rights abuses suffered during the five-year conflict period. She said 272 of the interviews were conducted in Ituri, where prosecutors allege that Ntaganda, along with his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) rebel forces, committed war crimes and crimes against humanity for which he is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
According to Lawry’s report, which prosecutors tendered into evidence, 40 of the households sampled in Ituri, or one in every seven households, reported that they suffered abuses at the hands of UPC fighters. Five of the alleged brutalities by UPC rebels were rape. The study had another 13 respondents reporting rape by combatants from other groups.
Lawry said the information solicited during interviews included abuses suffered by individual respondents and reports of abuses suffered by other members of the household. She conceded, however, that the survey did not collect data on the reliability of the alleged reports.
Asked by defense lawyer Christopher Gosnell whether the survey had established how an interviewee came to know about abuses suffered by other people in the household, Lawry replied, “No, these are all self-reports.” Attribution of responsibility for the abuses was also done by respondents and not the researchers.
Gosnell also contended that secondary reports of abuses suffered more than 10 years ago may be questionable.
“I think it depends on the abuse, the situation, and who the abuse occurred to. For instance, if it was a child [victim], a mother probably remembers,” answered Lawry.
“Is it your view that the traumatic nature of the event makes it easier to recall accurately?” asked Gosnell.
“I wouldn’t say easier, but I would say they can recall it. It’s hard to forget,” replied the witness.
Judges declined to hear the proposed testimony of another expert witness on sexual violence – Radhika Coomaraswamy – the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict. In their ruling, judges recognized Coomaraswamy’s experience and expertise, but they found that her proposed testimony fell “within the chamber’s own competence.” Regarding her report, which prosecutors sought to tender into evidence, judges noted that it “mostly provides legal opinions on certain elements of the crimes charged” and in the interest of ensuring focus and efficient proceedings, it should not be tendered into evidence.
Hearings in Ntaganda’s trial are scheduled to resume on January 18, 2017.