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Child Soldiers’ Age at Center of Recorded Witness Testimony Admitted Into Ntaganda Trial Evidence

Having cut the number of their witnesses from 110 to about 40, Bosco Ntaganda’s lawyers are also submitting recorded testimony of several witnesses as opposed to calling them to testify in person. This has reduced the time over which the defense will present its case in Ntaganda’s trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Judges have recently granted a defense application to admit the prior recoded testimony of six defense witnesses. The defense submitted that calling witnesses to testify about very specific information would not be in the interest of an expeditious trial or the efficient use of court resources.

The statements were admitted under the court’s Rule 68(2)(b), which provides that if the witness who gave the previously recorded testimony is not present before the court, judges may allow the introduction of that previously recorded testimony if it goes to proof of a matter other than the acts and conduct of the accused.

In their decision, judges noted that the relevant prior recorded testimony of the six witnesses did not relate to Ntaganda’s acts and conduct. Furthermore, they said the testimony was limited in scope and could be challenged by alternative means to cross-examination.

Most of the submitted witness statements are related to the age of some soldiers who purportedly fought in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the militia in which Ntaganda was a deputy chief of staff. With the charges against Ntaganda, including the enlisting and use of child soldiers in armed conflict, as well as the rape and sexual slavery of child soldiers by members of the same militia, the defense is eager to punch holes in the testimony of those who testified as former child soldiers in the group and those who alleged rape and sexual relations involving UPC militia members.

Below are the witnesses whose recorded testimony has been admitted:

Witness D123

Judges found his statement relevant as it challenges the validity of a document concerning prosecution’s Witness P894’s family relations. The unnamed document was discussed and admitted for the purpose of impeachment during Witness P894’s cross-examination in June 2016.

Witness D123 claimed he knows the individuals identified in the document as brothers to the prosecution witness. However, while appearing before the judges, Witness P894 suggested that the document was not valid. The testimony of Witness P894 related to ethnic tensions in Ituri province, a crime of murder, and two attacks by the UPC militia on Mongbwalu town.

Witness D134

The statement of this witness concerns the baptism record of the prosecution’s Witness P888, who testified as an alleged former child soldier. The defense says this prosecution witness lied about his age and date of birth, and the baptism record was admitted into evidence for impeachment purposes.

In finding the admission of Witness D134’s prior recorded testimony appropriate, judges noted that when questioned about the baptism record, Witness P888 did not deny its authenticity or the accuracy of the information pertaining to him and clarified that his statements concerning his date of birth were based on information he received from his mother.

Witnesses D148, Witness D150, and Witness D163

According to the defense, the statements of these three witnesses relate to documents pertaining to the age of the prosecution’s Witness P883. This witness testified in November 2016, entirely in closed session.

Regarding Witness D148, the defense said her statement was limited to commenting on deficiencies apparent on a birth certificate admitted for Witness P883, suggesting that it is a forgery. Judges noted that, while bearing Witness D148’s signature, the certificate appears to have been completed by another person. Furthermore, the certificate differs from the usual documents as it is not numbered and lacks certain information.

Witness D150’s testimony also concerns the authenticity of the birth certificate admitted for Witness P883 and addresses how the office that purportedly issued the document functions. According to the defense, Witness D150 does not recognize the writing on the document as being either his own or that of his superior who were both on duty on the reported date of the document’s issuance. The defense witness also states that the Civil Registry contains no record of the birth of Witness P883.

Meanwhile, Witness D163’s testimony relates to the procedure for issuing birth certificates by officers of the Civil Registry and provides information about the basis of information appearing on electoral cards.

Judges considered that the prior recorded testimony of Witness D148 and Witness D150 was relevant as it related to the age of Witness P883 who testified as a former child soldier. Judges also determined that Witness D163’s statement was relevant, as it addressed the reliability of the different forms of birth certification.

Witness D013

Judges determined that his prior recorded testimony is relevant because it concerns the political context leading to the creation of UPC, its structure, functioning, and policies in 2002-2003, including the UPC’s approach to demobilization of child soldiers.