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Judges Decline Ntaganda’s Request for Judicial Site Visit to Congo

International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have rejected Bosco Ntaganda’s request for the court to make a judicial site visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo before the start of the defense case. According to the judges, Ntaganda’s defense failed to adequately specify the contested facts that the visit would seek to assess.

“The Chamber is of the view that the Defense has not identified with a sufficient level of specificity the concrete disputed facts or issues arising from the evidence at trial,” the judges ruled on February 24. “The Defense also has not clearly demonstrated how the site visit would be of benefit to the Chamber in assessing specific facts and issues.”

Judges considered that not all of the facts identified by the defense in its request were in dispute or that the defense had failed to demonstrate how they materially related to the crimes charged. They added that, even if some of those facts or issues were considered to be relevant or in dispute, the chamber was not convinced at this stage that a site visit would assist in assessing them.

In their February 8, 2017 request, Ntaganda’s lawyers argued that making a site visit to locations in Congo before the start of the defense case would allow judges to gain knowledge of locations mentioned by prosecution witnesses “but which remain vague and unfamiliar given that no concrete evidence was adduced in respect of these locations.” Such knowledge is essential to judges’ understanding of the evidence to be presented by the defense, said defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon.

Bourgon added that the visit would enable judges to become familiar with the geography of the region; the layout of villages, towns, municipalities, and cities relevant to the Updated Document Containing Charges (UDCC) and their surroundings; distances between various locations; infrastructure; and alleged crimes scenes within villages, towns, municipalities, and cities.

Furthermore, he argued, judges would gain knowledge on the topography of relevant locations, including mountains, rivers, forests, high grounds, and other vantage points and assess the possibility to hear weapons and gunshots between various locations mentioned in the UDCC.

However, judges Robert Fremr (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Chang-ho Chung considered that Ntaganda’s lawyers had not demonstrated why a site visit was necessary at this stage. They said they were not persuaded as to how the site visit, in the form currently requested by the defense, would allow for a more focused and possibly shorter defense case.

Although the defense request was rejected, judges reiterated that they were open to conducting a site visit when it becomes clear that it would serve a specific purpose in relation to facts at issue. Trial Chamber VI trying Ntaganda has previously rejected a prosecution request to make a site visit to Congo.

The prosecution did not oppose the defense’s request for a site visit, provided it did not delay the start of the defense case. The last prosecution witness completed giving evidence last month, and the defense is due to start presenting its evidence in May.