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Ntaganda’s Testimony at The ICC to Last More Than Six Weeks

Bosco Ntaganda’s testimony at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will last more than the initially anticipated six weeks. Yesterday, judges granted defense lawyers an additional 15 hours to question the former Congolese rebel leader who is testifying in his own defense at the court based in The Hague.

In granting the defense request for additional time, judges stated that the decision was “exceptional” given that Ntaganda is appearing as a witness in his own trial. “The chamber acknowledges that Ntaganda is the accused. In this regard, it may be difficult to estimate the time required for a lengthy examination,” ruled Presiding Judge Robert Fremr. “Accordingly, the chamber grants the defense request to be allocated a maximum of 15 additional hours to question Ntaganda.”

On May 17, 2017, judges granted a defense request for Ntaganda to testify in his own defense, with his testimony expected to last for up to six weeks starting June 14.

However, lead defense counsel Stéphane Bourgon yesterday indicated that Ntaganda “would not be able to tell his full story” in the time initially allocated. He also maintained that Ntaganda’s testimony would result in a shorter defense case. “This case will not be longer if Ntaganda testifies more. The case will be shorter,” stated Bourgon.

In an interview last month, Bourgon stated that Ntaganda had decided to take the witness stand in order to clear his name and show that “he’s not the person portrayed in the media and elsewhere” and explain “who he is, what he did, and why he did what he did.”

In oral submissions to judges, prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson stated that they were not opposed to the defense request for additional time but that 15 hours was “excessive.” According to her, the defense had spent the majority of its questioning time thus far on events that happened prior to period in which the crimes Ntaganda is not on trial for were committed.

“These events may be relevant but were covered in minute detail and any evidence for events [related to the charges] can be done in quicker time,” said Samson.

Lawyers representing victims in the trial echoed the prosecution’s submission.

Ntaganda is the second witness to testify since the opening of the defense case on May 29. He has been on trial at the ICC since September 2015 over 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed by himself and Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) fighters during 2002 and 2003 in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Since the start of his testimony, Ntaganda has stated that his primary motivation for joining various armed groups in Rwanda and Congo was to fight injustice and discrimination. He narrated how, after fighting with the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) rebel group and helping to end the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, he went on to help overthrow the regime of former Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Ntaganda also testified that after receiving training support in Ugandan military schools, he joined Congolese allies in training young recruits in Congo’s Ituri district so that they could protect civilians against attacks from armed groups that targeted members of Tutsi and Hema ethnic origin. He stated that the UPC did not have conscripts and recruits adhered to the group’s strict discipline. Furthermore, Ntaganda stated that he forbade sexual relations within the group and these instructions “were followed to the letter.”

Ntaganda has also spent considerable time pinpointing the locations of various towns in eastern Congo on maps provided by defense lawyers, and explaining UPC militia communication log books, including where the senders and receivers of specified messages were at the time the logs were captured.

Ntaganda’s testimony continues throughout this week.