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Ntaganda Closing Statements Scheduled for Late August

Closing arguments in the trial of Bosco Ntaganda will take place on August 28-30, 2018 at the seat of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Ntaganda, who served alternately as a rebel commander and as a general in the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo for more than a decade, has been in the court’s detention since March 2013. He is on trial for 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in 2002 and 2003 while he was deputy chief of staff of a militia known as the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).

The charges against him include rape, sexual slavery, and the enlistment and conscription of child soldiers under the age of 15 years and using them in hostilities. The prosecution has also charged him with attacking civilians, pillaging, murder, and displacement of civilians. He has denied all the charges.

Ntaganda’s lawyers had up to July 2 to file their closing brief. Thereafter, the prosecution and victims’ lawyers would respond to the defense brief within two weeks and the defense would have two weeks to file a reply brief.

Ntaganda’s trial opened in September 2015 and saw the prosecution present 71 witnesses while the defense had 19 witnesses. Ntaganda testified in his own defense for over six weeks, during which he recounted how his role in fighting injustice and discrimination during the Rwandan genocide drove him to fight against dictatorship in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He stated that discipline was strictly enforced within the UPC militia and that ethnic discrimination and sexual relations were forbidden within the UPC. He maintained that commanders in the group screened recruits and rejected individuals deemed too young to serve.

According to a July 4 order issued by Trial Chamber VI, closing statements will be made by the Office of the Prosecutor, Bemba’s lawyers, and legal representatives of victims. The trial chamber is composed of Presiding Judge Robert Fremr, Judge Chang-ho Chung, and Judge Kuniko Ozaki. Ntaganda will also have the option of making an unsworn statement during the presentation of the closing statements.

According to Rule 141 of the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, the presiding judge needs to invite the prosecutor and the defense to make their closing statement after declaring that the submission of evidence is closed. The defense always has the opportunity to speak last. After closing statements, judges retire to deliberate in closed session and at a subsequent time, they announce the date on which the decision is pronounced.

The court’s rules provide that the pronouncement of the decision shall be made “within a reasonable period of time after the Trial Chamber has retired to deliberate.”

The time between the closing oral arguments and the delivery of the verdict has varied in previous ICC trials. In the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba for war crimes and crime against humanity, which had 77 total witnesses, it was 16 months. In the case against Germain Katanga, which included 58 total witnesses, it was 22 months. In Thomas Lubanga’s trial with 67 total witnesses, the judges took seven months to announce their judgment.