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Ntaganda Lawyers Granted More Time to File Closing Brief

Former Congolese rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda’s lawyers have been granted a two-week extension to the deadline for filing their closing brief. The defense had requested an extra three weeks, citing, among other reasons, staff attrition from the defense team and anticipated delays in translating the prosecution’s closing brief into the Kinyarwanda language.

In the May 29 ruling, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) determined that, whereas “good cause has been shown to grant an extension,” two weeks would be sufficient. Accordingly, the defense has until July 2, 2018 to file its brief.

Ntaganda is on trial at the court based in The Hague over 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed during an ethnic conflict in Congo’s Ituri district 15 years ago. The trial started back in September 2015 and presentation of oral evidence was completed last February with the defense calling 19 witnesses compared to the prosecution’s 71. The former deputy chief of staff of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia testified in his own defense for several weeks.

In granting the extension, judges considered that the staff attrition experienced by the defense team had compounded its difficulties in preparing the closing brief. In the defense request for an extension, filed on May 21, Ntaganda’s lead defense lawyer, Stéphane Bourgon, said because the defense does not have permanent staff arrangements, it is “unequally impacted” by temporary or permanent departures of team members. He said one staff had permanently left the team while another was temporary unavailable.

In April 2016, one of Ntaganda’s lawyers resigned from the case, citing undisclosed personal reasons. He was the second lawyer to step down from representing Ntaganda at the ICC.

Judges also found merit in the submission that delays in translating the prosecution’s brief into Kinyarwanda presented additional challenges to Ntaganda’s lawyers. They noted that, according to the schedule provided by the court’s Registry, translations of four of the seven portions of the prosecution’s closing brief would be provided to the defense after the six-week schedule earlier set by judges.

Although Ntaganda is a Congolese national, he was born in Rwanda and when he made his initial appearance at the ICC, he said Kinyarwanda was the language he understood best. Subsequently, judges granted a defense request for large portions of the prosecution closing brief to be translated into Kinyarwanda for Ntaganda’s benefit.

According to the defense, the need for such a translation is “even greater for Mr. Ntaganda whose own testimony is extensively characterized in the Prosecution’s closing brief.” Bourgon said that, as of May 21, out of the 361 pages of the closing brief requested for translation, only 82 had been received.

In its request, the defense also stated that corrections to transcripts of hearings had “continued unabatedand were likely to continue throughout the period of drafting the defense closing brief, which imposed “an ongoing and cumulative additional burden that was not foreseen.” According to Bourgon, 72 revised transcripts had been notified since April 20, 2018, when the prosecution closing brief was filed, and additional errors continued to be identified in the transcripts of Ntaganda’s testimony.

Both the prosecution and lawyers representing victims in the trial opposed the defense request for an extension, stating that none of the reasons advanced by the defense amounted to good cause or justified additional time.

Last April, judges granted a prosecution request to extend the time limit for the submission of its closing brief by four days. In its application, the prosecution stated that the court’s Registry had been notifying corrections in bulk to the testimony of Ntaganda and several other defense witnesses. It said receiving the corrected transcripts in bulk during the prosecution’s four-week deadline placed significant additional burden on it to ensure the accuracy of citations that may be affected by newly-notified transcript corrections.

Under the revised timetable, the prosecution and victims’ lawyers will respond to the defense brief two weeks after it is filed. The defense will then have two weeks to file a reply brief, after which judges will determine the date for the oral closing arguments.

The court is scheduled to go on judicial recess from July 20 until August 13, 2018.