War crimes accused Bosco Ntaganda has denied accusations that he killed a priest in the Congolese town of Mongbwalu 15 years ago. Testifying in his own defense at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the former rebel commander stated that he only learned of the death of the priest after surrendering to the court based in The Hague in March 2013.
“When you said you know nothing about [Abbe Boniface] Bwanalonga, was that the case?” asked defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon, referring to the priest who prosecutors claim was murdered by Ntaganda.
“Yes, I did not know anything about it,” replied Ntaganda, adding that the death of the priest came to his attention while he was reviewing unspecified documents following his arrival at the ICC.
In court on Wednesday, defense lawyers read excerpts of an interview Ntaganda gave to Human Rights Watch official Anneke Van Woudenberg on a date that was not mentioned in court in which he denied being in Mongbwalu during a November 2002 attack on the town in which the priest was killed. Affirming what he stated in the interview with Van Woudenberg, Ntaganda stated that he arrived in the town three days after the attack, and he did not know who Bwanalonga was.
During the ethnic conflict in Congo’s Ituri district in 2002-2003, Van Woudenberg conducted field missions, interviews with victims of sexual violence, and meetings with rebel leaders including Thomas Lubanga and Ntaganda. Last June, her research reports, interview notes, videos, and photographs were admitted into evidence in Ntaganda’s trial.
Prosecutors allege that Ntaganda personally shot dead Bwanalonga, who was a priest in Mongbwalu. They claim the murder took place at the time the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) was involved in armed ethnic conflict in Ituri. Ntaganda, who was the group’s deputy chief of staff, is on trial at the ICC for numerous crimes including murder, rape, pillaging, and the use of child soldiers. Lubanga, the group’s former commander-in-chief, is serving a 14-year jail sentence following his conviction for enlisting, conscripting, and using child soldiers in hostilities. Ntaganda has pleaded not guilty to all 18 charges against him.
On Wednesday, Ntaganda, who has been testifying since June 14, also denied knowledge of alleged attacks against civilians by UPC troops in various other towns during February and March of 2003.
“You have heard a number of witnesses giving descriptions of events in Kobu, Bambu, and Lipri in February to March 2003. What did you know about this before you arrived in The Hague in March 2013?” asked Bourgon.
“I had followed the information on this subject through the press. Other than that, I knew nothing about the attacks in Kobu, Bambu, and Lipri,” replied Ntaganda.
On Tuesday, Ntaganda testified that discipline was strictly enforced among UPC troops. Under questioning by Bourgon about communication logs regarding the execution of two UPC soldiers by firing squad, Ntaganda stated that the two soldiers had killed civilians and the executions were carried out publicly “to show that such acts were contrary to the ideology of the UPC.”
Furthermore, he stated that each battalion, brigade, and sector within the UPC militia had a disciplinary council responsible for maintaining discipline. He gave the names of various officers who he said were punished for indiscipline.
Asked by Bourgon if anyone ever brought to his attention a crime or act of indiscipline that he did not punish, Ntaganda replied, “No, that would not have been possible.” He said no act of indiscipline went unpunished even if the perpetrator was close to him.
The prosecution begins its cross-examination of Ntaganda on Thursday morning.