Bosco Ntaganda’s lawyers have disclosed that they intend to call 111 witnesses to testify for the former Congolese rebel commander who is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
At a status conference held today, defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon stated that the defense remained intent on calling the record number of witnesses on the list that it provided to judges and the prosecution. However, defense lawyers have not completed taking statements from all their prospective witnesses.
The prosecution in the Ntaganda trial called 71 witnesses, who testified between September 2015 and February 2017. Many of these witnesses appeared before court only briefly and consented to their prior recorded testimony – mostly given in the trial of Thomas Lubanga – being admitted into evidence in the Ntaganda trial. Both Ntaganda and Lubanga were charged over crimes committed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during 2002 and 2003 while they led a militia group known as the Union of Congolese Patriots.
Defense teams in previous trials at the ICC called much fewer witnesses than those proposed by Ntaganda, although all the accused whose trials have reached the defense phase were charged with a lesser number of counts than Ntaganda’s 18. Jean-Pierre Bemba called 34 witnesses compared to the prosecution’s 40, while 24 witnesses testified for Lubanga compared to 36 who testified for the prosecution. In the Germain Katanga trial, there were 28 witnesses called by himself and Mathieu Ngudjolo with whom he was jointly tried.
During the status conference today, Presiding Judge Robert Fremr asked defense lawyers whether they intended to call 57 individuals marked as provisional on the list of 111 witnesses. Bourgon affirmed so, but he added that the defense was not sure when it would provide the final witness summaries for all the witnesses. He said the priority for his team now is to find witnesses who are ready to testify at the trial.
Last month, judges ordered that final summaries of the anticipated testimony of defense witnesses should contain the key elements of what each witness will say, including an exhaustive description of the facts the witness will testify about, relevant information on their personal history and background, and the relevance of the anticipated testimony of the witness to the case.
The date for the opening of Ntaganda’s defense case has not been announced even though it was expected to feature on the agenda of today’s status conference. Besides the brief discussion about defense witnesses, the rest of the proceedings were closed to the public. Previously, judges had indicated the last week of this month as a possible start date for the defense case, but on March 20, Ntaganda’s lawyers asked judges to halt proceedings in the trial claiming the prosecution abused the court’s processes when it inappropriately accessed critical defense information. A few weeks later, defense lawyers indicated their intention to file a no case to answer motion.