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Former Congolese Judge Testifies at Ntaganda’s ICC Trial

A former judge from the Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has become one of the very few witnesses to testify publicly against ex-rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Jacques Kabasele, also known as Witness P043, took the stand today to testify under his real name and with his face showing in public broadcasts of his testimony.

Last Friday, judges declined to grant this witness the use of a pseudonym and distortion of his voice and image, noting that his prior involvement with the court was “publicly known and that there had been no reports of risks to his life over his cooperation with the court’s prosecutors. Judges also determined that, given his current location and the nature of his anticipated testimony, there was no objectively justifiable risk to the witness or his family.

Kabasele has previously testified in the ICC trial of Thomas Lubanga, a former Congolese rebel leader currently serving a 14-year prison sentence over the use of child soldiers. Today, judges admitted Kabasele’s 2005 statement to Lubanga prosecutors into the evidence record in the Ntaganda case.

Kabasele served as the president of the Cour de Grande Instance in Bunia, the capital of Ituri, during 2001-2003. According to his statement, extracts of which were read out in court, he was arrested and taken prisoner in November 2002 by soldiers belonging to the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). At the time, the UPC was headed by Lubanga with Ntaganda serving as the group’s third most powerful military leader. The UPC also controlled Ituri during this period. In his March 2009 testimony at the ICC, Kabasele recalled how UPC officials extorted traders and how the group’s fighters arrested him.

Rule 68(3) of the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence provides that judges may allow the introduction of the prior recorded testimony of a witness who is present before the chamber if the individual does not object and if both parties and the chamber have an opportunity to examine the witness.

Other than expert witnesses, Kabasele becomes only the third witness to testify without any protective measures. The rest of the witnesses – totaling up to 50 – have testified with the use of a pseudonym and with their voices and images distorted in public transmissions of their testimony. This measure is intended to keep the identities of the witnesses secret so that they are not at risk of attacks for cooperating with the court.

Ntaganda is on trial for five counts of crimes against humanity: murder and attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, and forcible transfer of the population. He is also charged with 13 counts of war crimes: murder and attempted murder; attacking civilians; rape; sexual slavery of civilians; pillaging; displacement of civilians; attacking protected objects; destroying the enemy’s property; and rape, sexual slavery, enlistment, and conscription of child soldiers under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.

The alleged crimes were committed during his tenure as the deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo), the UPC’s armed wing. Ntaganda and the group’s fighters purportedly committed the atrocities in Ituri during ethnic conflict between 2002 and 2003.

Hearings in the trial are scheduled to continue on Friday, February 3, with the testimony of a new prosecution witness.