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Ntaganda’s Witnesses Complete Testifying at the ICC

Lawyers for Bosco Ntaganda have completed oral presentation of evidence in the former Congolese rebel commander’s trial. However, they are continuing to present the defense case, including through documentary evidence and the previously recorded testimony of witnesses.

According to defense lawyers, their case was significantly cut short once judges allowed Ntaganda to testify at the start of the defense case, as that made it unnecessary to call some of the witnesses that had earlier been lined up. Following the completion of Ntaganda’s testimony, the defense slashed the number of its witnesses to 40 – nearly a third of the 111 witnesses whom they had indicated that they intended to call back in May 2017.

Ntaganda, who has been on trial at the ICC since September 2015 on 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, testified as the second defense witness between June and mid-September 2017. He denies prosecution claims that he and fighters in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) committed various crimes during an ethnic conflict in Congo’s Ituri district during 2002 and 2003.

The prosecution in the Ntaganda trial called 71 witnesses, who testified between September 2015 and February 2017. Many of the witnesses had earlier testified at the ICC trial of Thomas Lubanga, the erstwhile leader of the UPC who was convicted in 2013 over the use of child soldiers. These witnesses either appeared briefly before judges or had their previous testimony admitted into the evidence in the Ntaganda case without having to testify afresh.

Pursuant to Rule 68(3) of the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, judges may allow the introduction of the prior recorded testimony of a witness who is present before the chamber if the individual does not object and if both parties and the chamber have an opportunity to examine the witness.

The defense has also relied on admission of recorded testimony of some witnesses, pursuant to 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.

Ntaganda’s lawyers have argued 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. However, the defense experienced difficulties in getting some scheduled witnesses before judges to give testimony. This has stalled proceedings on several occasions.

Although Ntaganda faces a significantly higher number of charges than the other accused at the ICC whose trials have reached the defense phase, he has presented a comparable number of witnesses. Jean-Pierre Bemba called 34 witnesses compared to the prosecution’s 40, while 24 witnesses testified on behalf of Lubanga compared to 36 who testified for the prosecution. In the Germain Katanga trial, there were 28 witnesses called by himself and Mathieu Ngudjolo with whom he was jointly tried.

According to a timetable issued by judges on next steps in the trial, the prosecution and legal representatives of victims will file their closing briefs within four weeks after the presiding judge declares the presentation of evidence in the case to be closed. The defense shall then file its closing brief a month and a half later. The prosecution and the victims’ lawyers will have two weeks to respond to the defense’s closing brief, and the defense will have two weeks to reply. Closing statements shall be held two weeks after defense files its final reply.