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Closing Statements in Ntaganda Trial to Start Tomorrow

The hearing of closing statements in the trial of former Congolese rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda is scheduled to take place from Tuesday, August 28 to Thursday, August 30, 2018 at the seat of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

According to an order issued by judges last week, Ntaganda is expected to deliver an approximately 30-minute unsworn statement during the hearing. The accused’s unsworn statement will come after the defense and prosecution’s presentation of closing statements. The two have been allocated five hours each for their submissions, while the legal representatives of victims have been allocated one hour each. After Ntaganda’s statement, the prosecution and the defense will be allowed to make submissions in response, with the defense having the opportunity to speak last.

However, defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon has filed a petition requesting that judges modify the order so that the accused is given the last word during the hearing and the prosecution is not allowed to comment or respond to Ntaganda’s unsworn statement. He argued that by requiring Ntaganda to give his unsworn statement prior to the prosecution’s reply, the judges’ order appears to accept the prosecution’s submission that it should have the opportunity to reply both to the defense’s submissions and to the accused’s unsworn statement. Judges Robert Fremr, Chang-ho Chung, and Kuniko Ozaki,are yet to rule on the defense request.

Last March, Ntaganda’s lawyers closed their case after calling 19 witnesses, a number much lower than the 111 individuals the defense had earlier indicated it would call. The defense called four witnesses that testified orally in The Hague and another eight who testified remotely through the use of video link. 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. Ntaganda testified extensively in his own defense as the second defense witness.

Judges had earlier considered holding the closing arguments in Congo so as to take the trial close to victims. However, they decided last March to have the hearing in The Hague because of “the present security situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo,” and “the preparation time required for any such hearing to be arranged.”

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.The trial started in September 2015 and saw the prosecution present 71 witnesses.