In his continuing testimony at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Bosco Ntaganda has denied claims by the prosecution that he was the de facto military leader of the militia known as the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).
Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Ntaganda stated that during 2002 and 2003, he remained subordinate to the UPC’s chief of general staff, Floribert Kisembo. He added that he was also subordinate to Thomas Lubanga who was the group’s political leader.
“You bypassed Kisembo when giving orders and responding to commanders. Is that right?” asked prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson.
“If I short-circuited him, then our army would be destroyed,” said Ntaganda, who served as deputy chief of general staff in the UPC.
On Monday, Samson presented communication logs to the court, which she said indicated that Ntaganda directly responded to messages from field commanders and issued directives, sometimes not copying Kisembo.
Ntaganda explained that he often replied to messages swiftly and as necessary, but there were “no suspicions” as Kisembo was also in a position to send and reply to messages. “You have my log book here. Maybe Kisembo replied [to the same messages] if you had his log book,” said Ntaganda.
In excerpts of an interview Kisembo recorded in November 2005 with an unnamed party and presented in court last Friday, the now deceased commander stated that Ntaganda tried to prove he was “better” than him in the UPC as he had longer experience in the army. “He had a complex and didn’t want to give me any report and always took a distance with me,” Kisembo is alleged to have stated.
Asked by Samson if the interview excerpts summarized his relationship with Kisembo, Ntaganda replied that the timing of the interview was after Kisembo defected from the UPC and formed his own party in December 2003.
“At the time, we were enemies, do you expect that he would have anything good to say about me?” stated Ntaganda. He added that before Kisembo’s death in 2011, they reconciled after Kisembo visited him in the Congolese town of Goma. Kisembo allegedly told Ntaganda that he had declined to cooperate with court officials who had asked him to testify against Lubanga.
According to Ntaganda, there was no rivalry between him and Kisembo from 2002 to 2003. Whereas the two had different levels of military experience, Ntaganda stated that he respected his superior, and they had very friendly relations.
Ntaganda has also denied prosecution suggestions that Lubanga often referred to him as chief of staff. “He [Lubanga] signed a decree appointing me as deputy chief of staff which is the position I held. He referred to me as ‘commander’,” said Ntaganda.
Meanwhile, Samson has challenged Ntaganda’s claim that he set a good example for discipline among his troops. She put it to Ntaganda that his personal conduct, including taking a second wife contrary to his religious beliefs, set a bad example.
“Your conduct set an example that you would do what you want irrespective of the consequences,” said Samson.
“No”, responded Ntaganda, who maintained that he went against the dictates of the Seventh Day Adventist Church to which he belongs and the beliefs of his father by taking a second wife in a bid to reconcile two conflicting ethnic communities.
Ntaganda is on trial at the court based in The Hague over 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, and use of child soldiers among others. He is charged with individual criminal responsibility as a direct perpetrator, indirect co-perpetrator, and military commander for the crimes that were allegedly committed by the UPC against the non-Hema civilian population of Ituri between August 2002 and May 2003. He has pleaded not guilty in the trial that commenced in September 2015.
Ntaganda has been testifying in his own defense at the ICC since June 14, and his cross-examination by prosecutors started last Thursday. The prosecution has indicated that it intends to use 1,400 documents during its cross-examination. However, prior to the start of the cross-examination, the defense objected to the use of 14 documents, which had only been disclosed in the past week.
In an oral ruling, judges precluded prosecutors from using the 14 documents until after Tuesday this week. In the meantime, to ensure fairness of proceedings, judges granted the defense leave to discuss the items with Ntaganda.
Hearings in the trial are scheduled to continue throughout this week.