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In Closing Arguments, ICC Prosecution Outlines Evidence Against Ntaganda

In final oral submissions before trial judges, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have outlined evidence that they claim shows that Bosco Ntaganda presided over the commission of several crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They said the evidence presented against the former Congolese general-turned-militia commander also showed that he personally committed several crimes, including rape and murder.

As Ntaganda’s troops advanced, “men women and children were shot or hacked to death,” said prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson. She added that over a large geographical area the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) committed widespread rape, sexual enslavement, and pillaged property.

Citing the evidence of one prosecution witness who counted 50 bodies abandoned in a banana field by UPC fighters in Mongbwalu and Sayo, and other witness accounts of mass graves, Samson stated that the attacks and massacres “displaced or forcibly transferred innocent people.”

“The crimes weren’t isolated incidents … they were large-scale and systematic, resulting from meticulous training by Ntaganda,” said the prosecutor. In Kilo village, rape was so widespread that antibiotics were distributed to treat the many soldiers who were suffering from sexually transmitted infections, she said.

Ntaganda, 45, has been on trial at the court based in The Hague since September 2015. He faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by him and his UPC fighters in 2002 and 2003. The charges against him include rape, sexual slavery, and the enlistment, conscription and use in hostilities of child soldiers. The prosecution has also charged him with attacking civilians, pillaging, murder, and displacement of civilians. He has denied all the charges.

According to prosecutors, evidence presented showed that women were gang-raped, and some were also severely beaten or killed. One witness recounted how she was shot at close range when she tried to resist rape by a UPC soldier. Other evidence showed that there was widespread sexual enslavement by Ntaganda’s forces.

Describing the corpses found at one site of the UPC massacre, the prosecution said evidence showed that some had the sexual organs perforated by sticks or cut off. Some had their arms cut off or their heads crashed.

The attacks were purportedly targeted at members of the Lendu ethnic group whom the predominantly Hema UPC fighters referred to as “not human” and “useless wild animals.” Samson said former UPC fighters described how their commanders ordered them to displace Lendu, shoot at fleeing civilians, and burn down entire villages. Lendu militants who were captured were “summarily killed,” except for those believed to have valuable information, who were interrogated before being killed.

The prosecution said former UPC insiders described “nightly murder of prisoners” by the UPC. She said one witness recounted how Ntaganda ordered him to take two prisoners and tie them up, after which they were beaten up then killed by bayonet, in Ntaganda’s presence.

Another witness allegedly saw Ntaganda attack and kill four non-Hema individuals, including two children. The witness also saw him kill a retired colonel, after interrogating him, accusing him of supporting Lendu combatants.

“The accused interrogated and beat a priest before executing him in cold blood at close range,” said Samson. She referred to the evidence of Witnesses P17 and P963 who reportedly heard Ntaganda give orders to his troops to shoot or execute detained persons.

Furthermore, Ntaganda was also heard ordering his troops to kill women. “A senior commander heard Ntaganda order his bodyguards to kill three nuns who had been raped by the guards … he also heard him order the execution of two civilians,” said prosecution lawyer Julieta Solano.

Finally, the prosecution submitted that UPC soldiers had to obey the orders of their superiors, or face severe punishment. The prosecution stated that, as testified by more than 20 witnesses who witnessed the crimes Ntaganda is accused of, the UPC commanders “could get their subordinates to commit crimes by following orders.”

Following the prosecution submissions, the defense began its closing statement.