Today, judges trying former Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda heard about the communication capabilities of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia he commanded. This testimony came from the tenth witness called by the defense.
However, evidence by the witness was heard in closed session in order to save him from reprisals for testifying at the International Criminal Court (ICC). He resides in Ituri district in eastern Congo, the area where Ntaganda reportedly committed several crimes 15 years ago. The court’s Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU) advised that the witness’s identity be withheld given the instability in the region
Testifying under the pseudonym Witness D243, this individual is a recent addition to the list of witnesses to be called by the defense. According to the defense, his testimony relates to “assertions by certain prosecution witnesses about the communication capabilities” of UPC personnel, including Ntaganda, who was its deputy chief of staff during 2002 and 2003.
In its October 16, 2017 application to admit him as a witness, the defense said it originally intended to adduce the same testimony from a different witness who died several months ago. The death of the unnamed individual prompted the defense to renew efforts to contact Witness D243, who they initially met last May. As a result, he was not included on the defense witness list submitted in April 2017.
The prosecution opposed the defense application, faulting Ntaganda’s lawyers for failing to disclose the identity of the deceased individual and arguing that the defense should have indicated its intention to call Witness D243 when they met him last May. Moreover, the prosecution argued that Witness D243’s proposed evidence would be duplicative because it has been addressed by other witnesses.
Judges said the defense should have requested Witness D243’s addition at an earlier date, but they nonetheless admitted him as a witness in the interest of justice and determining the truth.
They noted that his proposed testimony related to issues of communications in Ituri from September 2002 to March 2003. Accordingly, judges considered that Witness D243, “by virtue of his knowledge and practical experience in this area, could provide relevant contextual and background information in relation to communications.”
Furthermore, judges stated that Witness D243’s testimony might assist them in assessing the testimony of earlier witnesses who provided evidence on the communications capability of UPC and Ntaganda.
Prosecution Witness P0901, a former UPC insider, testified that Ntaganda maintained a radio communication system at his residence, which enabled him to communicate to all UPC regional commanders. Another insider said the group used Motorola and Kenwood short-range radios and Thuraya satellite phones. He added that the militia had phone base stations that could be used to communicate over a long distance, which could encrypt messages. Meanwhile, prosecution Witness P888, who was also a fighter in the UPC, told judges in June 2016 that Ntaganda ordered recruits to “go from house to house, and if you find enemies, kill them.” He said the orders, which were issued via Motorola radio, were executed in the town of Songolo.
In an oral ruling yesterday, judges granted Witness D243 protective measures, which they had declined to offer in a December 1 decision. The new ruling followed further defense pleadings about potential negative repercussions arising from the witness’s testimony. The defense submitted that as part of his profession, the witness meets several people and travels throughout Ituri. As a result, appearing as a defense witness at the ICC could have negative repercussions on his safety and livelihood.
Ntaganda is on trial at the ICC for five counts of crimes against humanity and 13 counts of war crimes, allegedly committed during ethnic conflict between 2002 and 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The prosecution’s cross-examination of Witness D243 starts tomorrow morning.