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Judges Lift All Restrictions on Ntaganda’s Communications and Visits

International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have lifted all restrictions that were imposed on war crimes accused Bosco Ntaganda’s communications and visits. The restrictions were put in place two and a half years ago after the prosecution alleged that he was trying to influence witnesses.

In a ruling last month, judges determined that since the evidentiary phase of the case was coming to a close, it was no longer necessary to maintain these restrictions on the former Congolese rebel leader. The restrictions had been imposed to ensure the safety of witnesses, prevent breaches of confidentiality, and ensure the integrity of proceedings.

Judges have now determined that, without further evidence of misconduct, maintaining any restrictions on Ntaganda’s communications would “unduly impinge upon his fundamental right to respect for private and family life, and thus be disproportionate to any residual need to maintain them at this stage of proceedings.” Accordingly, they lifted all restrictions to his telephone communications and visits.

Last December, the defense asked judges to immediately lift or significant ease the restrictions on Ntaganda. The prosecution opposed the request, arguing that the standard passive monitoring regime of the court’s detention center was inadequate to stop Ntaganda from making unauthorized communications.

However, judges ruled that the court’s standard passive monitoring regime, and the deterrent effect of the previously-ordered restrictions, were sufficient to address the risk of Ntaganda’s potential misuse of his non-restricted telephone privileges. They rejected a prosecution request to maintain a limit on the time spent by Ntaganda on telephone, the number of calls, and their duration.

Under restrictions imposed in August 2015, Ntaganda’s telephone communications were only permitted with two individuals (a third contact was later added). The calls were actively monitored and limited in duration, language, and subject matter, with the use of coded language or discussion of case-related matters prohibited.

On September 7, 2016, judges maintained restrictions on Ntaganda’s contacts with the outside world after finding reasonable grounds to believe that he personally engaged in witness coaching and also directed his associates to do so. As a result, Ntaganda went on a 14-day hunger strike and boycott of proceedings. Last March, appeals judges upheld the trial chamber’s decision to maintain restrictions.

Ntaganda has, until the latest ruling, been permitted three hours of phone conversation per week, up from one hour per week in the earlier restrictions regime.  Although family visitation restrictions were eased in September 2016, it has still been disallowed for any items to be passed between Ntaganda and his family members or any other detainees. Moreover, visits from authorized non-family members were actively monitored and subjected to restrictions on language and subject matter.

Ntaganda is on trial at the ICC over various war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by himself and his subordinates in the militia group in which he was the deputy chief of staff. The crimes were purportedly committed during a 2002-2003 ethnic conflict. The last defense witness testified last month.