Bosco Ntaganda will take the witness stand next month to testify in his own defense at his International Criminal Court (ICC) trial. According to his lawyers, the former Congolese rebel leader’s testimony could last for up to six weeks.
In an interview today with the International Justice Monitor, defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon explained why Ntaganda has decided to take the witness stand—unlike most individuals who have previously been tried at the ICC.
“Mr. Ntaganda wants to establish, himself, that he’s not the person portrayed in the media and elsewhere. He wants to establish who he is, what he did, and why he did what he did,” said Bourgon. He added that Ntaganda surrendered voluntarily to the court and was willing to face justice to clear his name.
Ntaganda, the former deputy chief of staff of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia group, surrendered to the United States embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, in March 2013, and asked to be transferred to The Hague. Up until his surrender, he had evaded two arrest warrants; the first was issued in August 2006 and a second one in June 2012.
“In all likelihood, he will testify before the summer recess and he will begin the week of June 12,” said Bourgon. “We’re discussing, but he is likely to testify for quite some time. We think we will need six weeks.”
The commencement of the defense case has been scheduled for May 29 with opening statements and the testimony of three defense witnesses: D54, D52, and D210. There will then be a break until the week of June 12, when Ntaganda is expected to begin his testimony. In a May 12, 2017 submission to judges, Bourgon argues that allowing Ntaganda to testify at the earliest time possible might result in a shorter defense case.
However, Ntaganda’s lawyers are unhappy that judges have ordered the start of the defense case before ruling on various crucial pending defense motions. “In our view this case shouldn’t proceed any further,” Bourgon said in the interview with International Justice Monitor. “In our view there has been abuse of process and this case should stop.”
Judges have yet to decide on the defense’s request to appeal a decision that denied Ntaganda’s motion for a stay for proceedings. The defense wants the trial halted because the prosecution allegedly accessed critical defense information, including the identity of potential witnesses and the accused’s defense strategy. However, judges ruled on April 28 that it is possible to continue conducting a fair trial for the accused. Ntaganda’s lawyers have filed an application for leave to appeal that decision.
Similarly, judges have not yet ruled on a defense request to file for a partial acquittal, in which Ntaganda would file a no case to answer motion for some of the charges for which he is on trial.
Ntaganda denies all the 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity with which he is charged, which prosecutors allege were committed during 2002 and 2003 by himself and other UPC soldiers.
In addition, he has challenged the jurisdiction of the ICC to hear counts six and nine against him, under which he is charged with alleged war crimes of rape and sexual slavery of child soldiers in the UPC by fighters from the same militia group. The appeals chamber has yet to rule on this appeal. “It is a major issue that should be adjudicated before the defense case begins,” noted Bourgon.
The prosecution case started in September 2015 and ended last February, during which 71 witnesses were called to testify against Ntaganda. The trial has also heard the testimony of three victims, while an additional five victims presented their views and concerns to the trial chamber.