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UN Investigators ‘Found Widespread Reports of Crimes by Ntaganda’s Forces’

A former United Nations official in the Democratic Republic of Congo has testified how investigations by her team found widespread reports of crimes committed by members of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the militia in which war crimes accused Bosco Ntaganda was a senior commander.

Testifying at Ntaganda’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Sonia Bakar, who headed the investigations unit of the human rights section of the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC), recounted investigations into human rights violations in Ituri district during 2002-2003. MONUC was renamed in 2010 the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

The investigations were conducted as part of her unit’s role in monitoring the human rights situation in the country through following up on reports received from the field, identifying serious violations, and organizing investigative missions.

Bakar said she and her team conducted nine investigations in Ituri, which included site visits to Kobu, Lipri, and Bambu localities, where they interviewed up to 1,600 victims and witnesses to crimes such as massacres, rape, abduction, pillaging, and  destruction. Many of the crimes were attributed to UPC troops. Under questioning by prosecution lawyer Diane Luping, Bakar said she also interviewed representatives of companies and non-government organizations, doctors, and community leaders.

The investigation reports that Bakar and her team produced in June 2003, as well as raw data used to prepare the reports, were today tendered into evidence by the prosecution.

Luping’s questioning of the witness on specific cases of human rights violations documented in her reports was conducted in closed session. Presiding Judge Robert Fremr explained that there was a risk that information contained in some documents and videos may reveal the identities of witnesses or protected persons. Some questions therefore had to be put to Bakar in sessions closed to the public.

In open court, Bakar revealed that during investigations, she worked closely with Kristine Peduto, a former child protection officer with MONUC, who testified in the trial last June. In her testimony, Peduto recalled stories of child soldiers she helped to leave the UPC.

Bakar, who currently works with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has previously testified at the ICC trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui. She appeared in December 2011 under the pseudonym Witness P317.

Ntaganda is on trial at the court based in The Hague on five counts of crimes against humanity and 13 counts of war crimes, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, and forcible transfer of the population.

The alleged crimes were committed between 2002 and 2003 during his tenure as the deputy chief of staff of the armed wing of the UPC. At the time, the militia group, along with the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI) headed by Katanga, Ngudjolo Chui’s Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI), and numerous other armed militia, were involved in ethnic conflict in Ituri.

Bakar continues her testimony on Monday.