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Ntaganda Hearings Resume with Testimony Challenging Witness Who Alleged Sexual Relations in Congolese Militia

On Monday, the defense for war crimes accused Bosco Ntaganda presented a witness to challenge the testimony of a prosecution witness who testified about allegations of non-consensual sexual relations within the militia that Ntaganda commanded.

In the brief moments of open court, he said he was a trader in eastern Congo’s Ituri province during the 2002-2003 ethnic conflict, when Ntaganda and his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) fighters allegedly committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In an October 2017 application to add Witness D207 to its list of witnesses, the defense stated that his anticipated testimony directly contradict the testimony of prosecution Witness P898.

However, challenging the defense request, the prosecution stated that Witness D207’s proposed testimony was not relevant as it “relates to collateral issues” for which the defense should not be authorized to submit additional information. The prosecution stated that Witness D207’s evidence did not directly contradict that of Witness P898, arguing that despite being an alleged acquaintance, he was “unable to recognize” an image of Witness P898.

Witness P898 testified in the trial in November 2016. In his evidence, he stated that sexual relations between commanders and female recruits in the UPC may not always have been consensual. Without giving specific details of the alleged relationships in open court, he said, “At that time, I was not in a position to know what those young girls were really thinking, but I believe that if a commander wants your favors it is difficult to turn them down. Those girls were not in a position to do so.”

In the decision authorizing the testimony of Witness D207, judges ruled that his proposed evidence was “of relevance and significance” to the determination of the truth. However, judges declined a defense request for the submission of Witness D207’s prior recorded statement, noting that as he may challenge certain aspects of the testimony of prosecution’s Witness P898, it was “appropriate for his testimony to be subject to cross-examination.”

Judges also granted the protective measures to the defense witness and allowed him to testify remotely via video link from Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his brief public testimony, Witness D207 stated that he did not belong to any armed group at the time of the 2002-2003 conflict. It was therefore unclear how his testimony relates to that of Witness P898, who is believed to have been an insider in the UPC. The defense claimed in its submission that the evidence of Witness D207 would directly contract that of Witness P898 who, among others, testified about sexual relations in the UPC. The prosecution has advanced possible reasons as to why the defense witness may not have known that Witness P898 was in a military group. However, the prosecution’s submissions were redacted from filings that were made public.

Ntaganda has been on trial since September 2015 at the court based in The Hague for crimes allegedly committed by himself and UPC fighters while he served as a deputy chief of staff of the rebel group. Prosecutors accuse Ntaganda of numerous crimes, including rape, sexual slavery, and the enlistment and conscription of child soldiers under the age of 15 years and using them in hostilities. He is also charged with attacking civilians, pillaging, murder, and displacement of civilians. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.