Next week, former Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda will resume testifying in his own defense at the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he has been on trial since September 2015.
The 43-year-old Ntaganda, who is on trial for 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, commenced giving his evidence on June 14. On July 21, when the ICC went on recess, the prosecution had just started its cross-examination.
Ntaganda is charged with crimes committed during August 2002 and May 2003 while he served as a deputy chief of staff of the Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FLPC), a militia group in Eastern Congo that served as the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). He has been charged with the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15, and crimes against humanity including rape, murder, slavery, and pillaging. He has been charged as a direct perpetrator, indirect co-perpetrator, and military commander for crimes purportedly committed by himself and by his soldiers against the non-Hema civilian population of Congo’s Ituri district.
In his testimony, Ntaganda has stated that he was motivated to join rebel groups after witnessing the horrors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and was inspired by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. Ntaganda also testified that he quit Rwanda’s national army to participate in groups that were fighting to liberate the Democratic Republic of Congo from the dictatorship of then president Mobutu Sese Seko.
Ntaganda stated that the FPLC did not have conscripts or underage recruits, that discipline was strictly maintained within the militia, and that ethnic discrimination was forbidden. Furthermore, he testified that he personally prohibited sexual relations between members of the militia, and that the policy was respected by all troops. Ntaganda denied killing a priest and executing insubordinate fighters.
Ntaganda’s testimony had initially been expected to last for six weeks, but judges later allowed the defense an additional 15 hours for further questions. The judges stated that the decision to grant additional time was “exceptional” given that Ntaganda was appearing as a witness in his own trial, which made it difficult to estimate the time required for a lengthy examination.
Ntaganda has been in ICC custody since March 2013, when he walked into the American embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali and asked to be transferred to The Hague. His trial opened in September 2015, nine years after the court issued a first arrest warrant against Ntaganda. Thomas Lubanga, who served as FPLC commander-in-chief, was the first person ever tried and convicted by the ICC. He is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for conscripting, enlisting, and using children under 15 years of age in armed conflict.
According to defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon, Ntaganda decided to take the witness stand in order to clear his name, show that “he’s not the person portrayed in the media and elsewhere,” and to explain “who he is, what he did, and why he did what he did.” He is the second witness called since the start of the defense case.
Judges Robert Fremr (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Chang-ho Chung are hearing Ntaganda’s case. Trial Chamber VI has been on recess since July 22 and the prosecution will continue its cross-examination on Monday, August 28.