Hearings in Bosco Ntaganda’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have resumed today following a four-week break, with the testimony of the 61st witness to testify for the prosecution. The trial has been ongoing since September 2015. Proceedings have now entered the final stages of the prosecution’s case, which is expected to close in two months’ time.
At today’s hearing, the prosecution called an individual that testified about attacks by Ntaganda’s troops on various towns in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He testified under the pseudonym Witness P863, with his voice and image distorted in public transmissions of his testimony.
The witness recounted how the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) fighters attacked the town of Mongbwalu, with some residents fleeing to Bambu and Beni towns, while others escaped into neighboring Uganda. The rebels then allegedly attacked Bambu and launched bombs into the bushes where civilians had taken refuge.
Witness P863 also testified that he heard UPC commanders planning to attack the road between Buli and Kobu towns. Discussion of the alleged attack was heard over a radio set recovered by combatants from the Lendu ethnic group from a UPC soldier they had killed. The witness said that, as a friend of the Lendu militiamen, he was allowed near the device, and it is then that he heard the UPC commanders planning the attack.
Because Witness P863 is a protected witness, a large part of his testimony was heard in sessions closed to the public. Details of the alleged attacks on the towns and how he knew about them were given in closed session.
The defense opposed in-court protective measures for Witness P863, stating that there was no evidence to justify fears for his security or that of his family. The defense also noted that, in his screening interview, the witness had stated that he had no security concerns related to his cooperation with ICC prosecutors.
However, the prosecution argued that there were risks to the witness and his family because they still lived in an area where Ntaganda was influential. In addition, the prosecution argued that Witness P863’s former position means he is easily identifiable in his community, yet he and his family were not under the ICC’s protection program.
In their decision granting the witness protective measures, judges noted that while the witness had not experienced any specific security incidents, threats to a witness or their family are not a prerequisite to determining whether a witness faces an objectively justifiable risk. They also noted that there had been instances where other witnesses, including crime-based witnesses, were allegedly threatened as a result of their involvement with the court.
“[C]onsidering that the personal circumstances, profile and level of risk of a witness may evolve over time, the Chamber does not consider that the fact that the Witness was assessed during his screening interview to have ‘no security concerns regarding cooperation with the [Prosecution]’ negates the existence of any security risks at this stage,” the judges ruled.
In its assessment, the court’s Victims and Witnesses Section said the political situation in Congo was tense and warned that a realistic threat would arise if the identity of the witness became known as a result of testifying publicly.
Hearings continue tomorrow morning with the cross-examination of Witness P863.