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Ntaganda to Make Unsworn Closing Statement at the ICC

Former Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda will make an unsworn statement when the International Criminal Court (ICC) holds the last hearing in his trial that started in September 2015. The hearing for the closing statements is scheduled for August 28-30 at the seat of the court in The Hague.

Ntaganda, who faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, testified in his own defense, denying all charges against him and explaining what motivated him to join rebel groups in Rwanda and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He started his testimony on June 14, 2017 and ended it in mid-September 2017.

According to an order issued by judges this week, Ntaganda will deliver his unsworn statement towards the end of the hearing, most likely on August 30. He will have a maximum of 30 minutes in which to make the statement.

The defense and the prosecution shall have five hours each to present their closing statements, while the legal representatives of victims have been allocated one hour each. The prosecution will present its statements first, followed by victims’ lawyers, the defense, and then Ntaganda. The prosecution and the defense shall then make submissions in response, with the defense having the opportunity to speak last.

Ntaganda faces 13 counts of war crimes (murder and attempted murder; attacking civilians; rape; sexual slavery of civilians; pillaging; displacement of civilians; attacking protected objects; destroying the enemy’s property; rape and sexual slavery of child soldiers; and enlisting and conscripting child soldiers under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities). In addition, he faces five counts of crimes against humanity (murder and attempted murder; rape; sexual slavery; persecution; and forcible transfer of population).

Ntaganda and his troops allegedly committed these crimes between August 2002 and May 2003 while he served as a deputy chief of staff of the Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FLPC), a militia group in eastern Congo that served as the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).

As the second witness called by defense lawyers, Ntaganda testified in his own defense for over six weeks. He recounted how his role in fighting injustice and discrimination during the Rwandan genocide drove him to fight against dictatorship in the DRC. He stated that discipline was strictly enforced within the UPC militia, and that ethnic discrimination and sexual relations were forbidden within the group.

Furthermore, Ntaganda testified that commanders in the UPC screened recruits and rejected individuals deemed too young to serve. He also denied the prosecution’s accusation that he shot dead a priest and ordered his troops to rape three nuns who had been taken captive by UPC fighters.

Besides Ntaganda, the ICC has tried three former rebel leaders in relation to crimes committed in Ituri. In March 2012, the ICC convicted Thomas Lubanga of conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers during the Ituri conflict between 2002 and 2003. He was handed a 14-year prison sentence. Germain Katanga of the Patriotic Resistance Front in Ituri (FRPI) was in March 2014 found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from a February 2003 attack on civilians and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Mathieu Ngudjolo of the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) was acquitted in December 2012.