On Friday, the testimony of former Congolese rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) entered its fourth week. It was also the last day of hearings before the court goes into summer recess.
On June 14, Ntaganda took the stand to testify in his defense at the ICC. He has since recounted his involvement in various rebel groups, which he said was motivated by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and inspired by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. Ntaganda told judges that he left his post in Rwanda’s national army to participate in groups that were fighting to liberate the Democratic Republic of Congo from the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.
Ntaganda explained that the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), in which he served as deputy chief of staff, did not have conscripts or underage recruits and that discipline was strictly maintained within the militia while ethnic discrimination was forbidden within the group. Furthermore, he testified that he personally prohibited sexual relations among members of the militia and the policy was respected by all troops. Ntaganda also denied killing a priest and executing insubordinate fighters.
Over the past two days, Ntaganda has been cross-examined by prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson about various documents, including a November 2003 handwritten letter to the president of Fédération des Entreprises du Congo (FEC), a local business in Ituri, asking him to pay a US$800 Thuraya phone bill purportedly incurred by the accused. Samson also questioned Ntaganda about entries in a diary allegedly made by him in August 2003, as well as minutes from UPC meetings held in June 2003.
Ntaganda is faced with 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges stem from the UPC’s involvement in an armed ethnic conflict in Congo’s Ituri province during 2002 and 2003. In the confirmation of charges decision, pre-trial judges found sufficient evidence indicating that jointly with other members of the UPC, Ntaganda committed the alleged crimes, and he accordingly bore criminal responsibility as the group’s deputy military head.
Initially, Ntaganda’s testimony at the ICC was expected to last six weeks with the defense and prosecutors allocated up to 40 hours each to question him. However, on July 4, judges granted a defense request for an additional 15 hours to question the accused. The defense concluded its questioning on July 12.
Prior to adjourning this afternoon, Presiding Judge Robert Fremr announced that hearings in the trial would resume on August 28, with further cross-examination of the accused by the prosecution.