Hearings in the trial of Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have mostly proceeded in closed session since the accused concluded giving evidence in his own defense. The testimony of three individuals who have testified after Ntaganda, all of them via video link, has mostly been heard in closed session.
On Monday, Witness D201, believed to be a former head teacher in a school in Congo’s Ituri district, testified about students’ school attendance patterns during ethnic conflict in the region in 2002 and 2003. It is unclear what school the witness worked at and how his testimony related to the charges against Ntaganda.
Earlier on Monday, Witness D057 also testified, predominantly in closed session. This individual also appears to have been a member of staff at an unnamed school in Ituri at the time Ntaganda and his fighters in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia allegedly committed various war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Among the 18 counts Ntaganda is on trial for are rape and sexual slavery of child soldiers, as well as enlisting and conscripting child soldiers under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. Last June, prosecution witness P190 testified that Ntaganda grabbed children from a boy’s primary school and conscripted them into the UPC. The witness stated that Ntaganda led a group of soldiers in a raid on the school in Muzipela and took an unspecified number of children whom he drafted into the militia.
It is not known if the testimonies of Witness D201 and Witness D057 were linked to the alleged abduction of children at the school in Muzipela. School records have previously been used by the defense to question the age at which witnesses who claim to have been child soldiers joined rebel groups.
In his testimony, Ntaganda claimed the UPC screened its recruits to weed out individuals who did not meet requirements, such as those who were underage. He said recruits deemed too young to serve in the group were sent back to their homes.
In the August 17, 2017 application to hear the testimony of D201 and D057 via video link, defense lawyers stated that these witnesses were expected to “attest to very limited and specific facts” with direct examination lasting no more than an hour. The defense also indicated that remote testimony would reduce their period of absence from work and “lessen the danger” that could result from their participation in the trial becoming known.
Meanwhile, last Friday judges heard the evidence of Richard Bahati Zawadi, also via video link, from Bunia town in Congo. Appearing without any protective measures, Zawadi testified about his training at Kyankwanzi military school in Uganda, where hundreds of Congolese rebel recruits were trained by the Ugandan army.
The Ntaganda trial has previously heard that Congolese child soldiers were trained at Kyankwanzi. According to the prosecution, in August 2000, Uganda’s army airlifted up to 700 Congolese militia fighters to train them at two military schools in Uganda. The trainees allegedly included up to 163 children, some under the age of 18 and others below 15 years of age, some of whom went on to serve in the UPC.
The prosecution has produced evidence showing that at the time, there were efforts by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to secure the demobilization of the 163 underage recruits who were in Kyankwanzi.
Under questioning by defense lawyer Christopher Gosnell, Zawadi said he did not provide his date of birth to UNICEF officials who visited the training camp. “When we arrived there, we were very young, they asked where we are coming from. Then they took photos of us,” recalled the witness. He added that when he arrived at Kyankwanzi, he was not sure which militia group he was part of, although he was later given a military uniform that indicated that he was a member of the Congolese Popular Army (APC). The APC and UPC are among the Congolese rebel groups whose fighters were trained at the Ugandan military facility.
Ntaganda, the former deputy chief of staff of the UPC, 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. The alleged crimes, which Ntaganda denies, were committed in Congo’s Ituri district during 2002 and 2003.
Thomas Lubanga, the UPC’s leader, was the first person to be convicted by the ICC. He is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for the recruitment, enlistment, and use of children under 15 years old in an armed conflict.
Hearings in the Ntaganda trial are scheduled to continue on Thursday, September 21, with the testimony of a new defense witness.