On July 8, former Congolese rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda will know whether judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) convict or acquit him of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The 46-year-old Ntaganda, who also served as a general in the Congolese national army, has been in the court’s detention for six years, and his trial commenced in September 2015.
According to a scheduling order from Trial Chamber VI, comprised of Judge Robert Fremr (Presiding), Judge Kuniko Ozaki, and Judge Chang-ho Chung, the judgement will be delivered at 10:00 local time in The Hague.
Over the last three months, Ntaganda’s lawyers have been engrossed in a bid to get Judge Kuniko Ozaki dismissed from the trial over her short-lived appointment as Japan’s ambassador to Estonia. They argued that the judge had lost her judicial independence by holding two jobs at the same time and also claimed that she was likely to be biased against Ntaganda because he instigated her resignation from the diplomatic job.
A request by defense lawyers for a temporary stay of proceedings over Judge Ozaki’s ambassadorial appointment was rejected last April by Trial Chamber VI. The chamber stated, among others, that a stay of proceedings was not justified at that advanced stage of the trial.
Judge Ozaki abstained from handling the defense request for the stay, which was filed more than six months after closing statements in the trial, and, according to Judge Fremr and Judge Chung, “did therefore not affect the Chamber’s management of the trial or its hearing of the evidence.” In that ruling, the chamber also stated that it would not render the judgment on Ntaganda’s guilt or innocence pending resolution of any request for disqualification of Judge Ozaki.
For her part, Judge Ozaki denied she held any bias against Ntaganda and explained that, in resigning the ambassadorial post, her utmost concern was the efficient and expeditious completion of the Ntaganda case. Last March, the court permitted Judge Ozaki to take up the diplomatic post and continue serving as a non-full-time judge on the Ntaganda trial until the end of the sentencing phase.
Ntaganda has been in ICC detention since March 2013, when he walked into the American embassy in Rwanda and asked to be delivered to The Hague. At the time, nearly seven years had passed since the court had issued its first warrant of arrest for Ntaganda for recruiting, enlisting, and using child soldiers.
Ntaganda was tried for five counts of crimes against humanity: murder and attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, and forcible transfer of population. He was also tried for 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; and rape, sexual slavery, enlistment, and conscription of child soldiers under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
The crimes were allegedly committed in eastern Congo during 2002 and 2003, while Ntaganda worked as the deputy chief of staff of a rebel group known as the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). Thomas Lubanga, who was commander-in-chief of the group, as well as president of its political arm known as the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), became the first person to be tried and convicted by the ICC. He is serving a 14-year prison sentence over the use of child soldiers.
According to the court, there were 248 hearings in the Ntaganda trial, during which the court heard 80 witnesses and experts called by the prosecution, 19 witnesses called by the defense, and three witnesses called by the legal representatives of the victims. An additional five victims presented their views and concerns to the chamber.