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Ntaganda Defense Closes Its Case After Calling 19 Witnesses

Lawyers for war crimes accused Bosco Ntaganda have closed their case after calling 19 witnesses to testify at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The number of witnesses who gave evidence for the former Congolese rebel commander is much lower than the 111 individuals whom the defense had earlier indicated it would call.

According to defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon, the defense called four witnesses that testified orally at the seat of the court in The Hague and another eight who testified remotely through the use of video link. Among the witnesses was Ntaganda himself, who testified for up to 120 hours over six weeks.

In addition, the evidence of seven defense witnesses was admitted through Rule 68 of the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, under which judges may allow the introduction of the prior recorded testimony of a witness. Judges granted approval of six witnesses to submit evidence in December 2017 under 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 their previously recorded testimony if it goes to proof of a matter other than the acts and conduct of the accused. The prior recorded statement of a seventh witness was admitted in February 2018 after the trial chamber found the witness “unavailable,”  satisfying the criteria in Rule 68(2)(c).

Ntaganda, 44, testified in his own defense as the second witness called by his lawyers once the presentation of the defense case commenced. He started his testimony on June 14, 2017 and ended it in mid-September.

The defense stated that its case was shortened significantly once judges allowed Ntaganda to testify because that made it unnecessary to call some of the witnesses that had earlier been lined up. Following the completion of his testimony, the defense initially 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’s 19 witnesses pale in comparison to the prosecution’s 71 witnesses. Moreover, while he faces the biggest number of charges among all the accused that have presented their cases before the ICC thus far, Ntaganda called the smallest number of witnesses. Jean-Pierre Bemba called 34 witnesses compared to the prosecution’s 40, while 24 witnesses testified on behalf of Thomas Lubanga compared to the prosecution’s 36 witnesses. In the Germain Katanga trial, there were 28 witnesses called by himself and Mathieu Ngudjolo with whom he was jointly tried.

Ntaganda has been in ICC custody since March 2013, and his trial opened in September 2015. Whereas the first warrant for his arrest was issued in August 2006, he surrendered to the court six-and-a-half years later, when he walked into the American Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda and asked to be transferred to The Hague.

He is charged with 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by himself and his militia fighters during armed conflict in Congo’s Ituri district in 2002 and 2003. He denies all the charges.

The presentation of evidence stage of the trial by all parties is now closed, and closing arguments in the trial will be delivered in The Hague at a date yet to be announced.