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Ntaganda Trial on Break After Testimony of Seventh Defense Witness

The trial of former Congolese militia commander Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) is on a break until October 17, when judges will hear the evidence of the eighth defense witness.

The break came after the conclusion of the two-day testimony of the seventh witness called by Ntaganda’s lawyers. Testifying under the pseudonym Witness D-211, her evidence was heard via video link and entirely in closed session.

In an application to hear the testimony of Witness D-211 via video link, defense lawyers stated that the witness had expressed concerns that traveling to the seat of the court may expose her identity. While the scope of her testimony was redacted from the defense’s public filing, the document indicates that the witness has “substantial family commitments” and that video link testimony would mitigate difficulties that might otherwise arise.

The prosecution opposed the defense request for Witness D-211 to appear before the court remotely, stating that, unlike two other witnesses for whom the defense sought video link testimony, Witness D-211’s testimony was “not limited in scope.” According to the prosecution, her testimony relates to at least five charges against Ntaganda, and was expected to “challenge various aspects of the testimony, as well as the credibility of prosecution witnesses.”

Furthermore, prosecutors argued that judges should not give the “family reasons” advanced by the defense due weight, as other witnesses faced similar issues that could be addressed by the court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit.

The prosecution also cited impediments to assessing the demeanor of a witness who is not inside the courtroom, as well as background noise interference at the undisclosed location from which the witness would address the court via video link. The prosecution suggested that, instead, measures should be put in place to ensure that the identity of the witness is not revealed due to her traveling to the seat of the court in The Hague.

However, judges ruled in favor of the defense, noting that the nature and expected length of Witness D-211’s testimony, as well as her “personal circumstances,” made it appropriate to hear her testimony via video link. They also ruled that video link testimony would not cause any disadvantage to the prosecution, or affect the chamber’s ability to assess testimony. Accordingly, Witness D-211 testified via video link on September 21st and 22nd.

Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that were allegedly committed while he was deputy military head of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) militia, which was also known as the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). The purported crimes were committed against civilians in Congo’s Ituri district during the ethnic conflict in 2002 and 2003.

His trial opened at the ICC in September 2015. Prior its start, judges ruled that hearings would be scheduled in blocks of five to six weeks at a time, followed by breaks of up to two weeks. At the time, presiding Judge Robert Fremr said a schedule of this nature would facilitate the work of the parties and ensure that the trial is conducted in an efficient manner.

The defense case opened on May 29, and has been dominated by the testimony of Ntaganda, who took the witness stand on June 14 and completed giving evidence in mid-September.

Hearings are scheduled to continue on Tuesday, October 17.