After several weeks on the witness stand, Bosco Ntaganda today concluded giving evidence in his own defense at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The concluding parts of his testimony focused on his communications from the court’s detention center, which the prosecution alleges he used to interfere with witnesses.
Asked by defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon whether, through his communications, he asked anyone to “mislead” or “lie before the court,” Ntaganda replied, “Not at all. When I would speak to someone, often it was people I had contact with [before detention at the ICC]. I would say how ‘are things going?’ If it was someone who was with me [during the conflict], I would ask to be reminded of certain events,” stated Ntaganda.
He added that, in some cases, he would ask his contacts to help locate individuals who were involved in certain military operations in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia where he was a commander, and “put them in touch” with resource persons who were working with his defense team.
The bulk of Bourgon’s redirect questioning about specific conversations was conducted in closed session. Whereas the prosecution was granted time to question the accused after the defense’s redirect questioning, judges discontinued prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson’s questioning, stating that it equated to Article 70 investigations.
In 2015, judges granted the prosecution access to Ntaganda and Thomas Lubanga’s non-privileged conversations at the detention center dating from March 2013. This was intended to aid investigations into allegations of witness tampering pursuant to Article 70 of the Rome Statute.
Last November, the prosecution disclosed 20,968 records to the defense, which it said indicated “serious and concerning attempts” by Ntaganda and Lubanga to interfere with prosecution investigations and witnesses, and to coach potential defense witnesses. Defense lawyers sought a stay of proceedings at the time, claiming the prosecution abused the court’s processes when it inappropriately accessed critical defense information. However, in an April 28 ruling, judges considered that it was possible to continue conducting a fair trial.
In that ruling, the judges directed that during the defense’s presentation of evidence, the prosecution would not be allowed to use the material obtained in the context of the Article 70 investigation unless specifically authorized by the chamber upon receipt of a request.
Ntaganda has been testifying in his own defense since June, and is the second witness called by his lawyers. Following the completion of his testimony, a third witness was called by the defense. Appearing via video link from Bunia in eastern Congo, this individual testified with a pseudonym and with her image and voice distorted during public rebroadcast of her testimony. Initial questioning of the witness was conducted in closed session.
Hearings are scheduled to continue tomorrow morning.