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Last Prosecution Witness Testifies in Ntaganda Trial

The prosecution has called its final witness in the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial of former Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda, which opened 17 months ago.

Today, the last prosecution witness testified about school records for some of the alleged former child soldiers who testified in the trial earlier. Désiré Dudunyabo Tandana, also known as Witness P551, is a former inspector of schools in the eastern Congo town of Bunia, and he was questioned about records that showed the age of former pupils in various schools.

Establishing the age of the students when they were enrolled in school is one of the means the prosecution has used to show that at the time these children purportedly served in Ntaganda’s Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), they were under the age of 15.

Judges declined the prosecution’s request to give protective measures to Tandana, a last minute addition to the prosecution witness list who testified via video link from an undisclosed location. He has previously testified at the ICC, and his prior recorded testimony has been accepted into the Ntaganda evidence record.

According to the prosecution, the relevance of his testimony was “not entirely clear” until after the testimony of Witness P888 who appeared in the trial last June and was recalled a few days after his initial testimony. When he was recalled, Witness P888 was questioned about his school enrollment records, among other issues.

Ntaganda’s lawyers opposed Tandana’s inclusion on the prosecution’s list of witnesses and the submission of his earlier testimony. In a January 24, 2017 filing, the defense argued that it had conducted its cross-examination of prosecution witnesses “in ignorance” of Tandana’s statements to prosecutors back in 2010, which were not disclosed until last November.

“The Prosecution waited not only until mid-way through its case, but until almost the end of its case and, in particular, after the testimony of witnesses who could have been cross-examined about Witness P551’s statements, and, indeed, after most of its witnesses have been heard,” stated the defense.

Defense lawyers argued that the prosecution’s decision to call Witness P551 and to disclose his statement came only after the testimony of undisclosed witnesses “turned out worse than expected,” and it decided to “buttress” the testimony of these witnesses.

Ntaganda’s trial at the ICC started in September 2015.  The prosecution called a total of 71 witnesses to testify against the Congolese national, who faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The witnesses have included victims and witnesses to the crimes, insiders in the UPC militia where Ntaganda was a top commander, and various expert witnesses.

Hearings were adjourned until March 2, when victims participating in the trial will present their views and concerns to judges.