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Ntaganda Has 60 Days to File Notice of Appeal Against ICC Conviction

Lawyers for Bosco Ntaganda, who was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this month, have been given 30 additional days to prepare a notice of appeal against the former Congolese rebel leader’s conviction.

The defense initially had 30 days from the delivery of the judgment to file the appeal notice. However, it asked judges for additional time, citing the numerous crimes Ntaganda was convicted of and the complexity of the prospective appeals case.

In the ruling, judges of the Appeals Chamber noted that Ntaganda had demonstrated good cause justifying a modest extension of the time limit to file the notice of appeal. They granted the defense 30 extra days, which they deemed sufficient.

They judges stated that because Regulation 57 of the court requires a notice of appeal to specify alleged errors and how they affect the appealed decision, Ntaganda and the prosecution needed to conduct a “thorough analysis” of the conviction decision, which they said in the present case “is indeed both complex and lengthy.”

Appeals Chamber judges also agreed with defense submissions that Ntaganda needed to receive translations of parts of the conviction decision in Kinyarwanda, the language he fully understands. Furthermore, the judges noted that ongoing proceedings on Ntaganda’s sentencing would reduce the time the defense or the prosecution would be able to commit to the appeals process.

Under Rule 150 of the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence [pdf], appeals against convictions, acquittals, sentences, and reparation orders have to be submitted within 30 days of the decision. However, the Appeals Chamber can extend the time upon application by the party seeking to file an appeal.

On July 8, Trial Chamber VI convicted Ntaganda on all 18 counts of war crimes and crimes and crimes against humanity he was charged with. This is the highest number of counts an individual has been convicted for by the ICC. Trial judges determined that Ntaganda was a direct perpetrator of three crimes – murder as a crime against humanity and a war crime, and persecution as a crime against humanity – and an indirect perpetrator of 15 crimes, including rape and sexual slavery.

On July 11, Ntaganda’s lawyers signaled the intention to appeal the conviction. He stated that the defense disagreed with the conclusions reached by trial judges regarding Ntaganda’s acts and conduct as well as regarding the policy of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the group in which Ntaganda was the deputy chief of staff when he committed the convicted crimes.

In seeking an extension to the deadline for filing a notice of appeal, Ntaganda’s lawyers cited “the unprecedented factual and legal complexity of the anticipated appeal, the novelty of the issues to be addressed, and the fair trial arguments that the Defense intends to advance.”

They said, “The Judgment in this case is based on charges and evidence of unprecedented scope before the ICC. The Trial Chamber has entered convictions on every charge against Mr. Ntaganda. The factual basis of these convictions is extensive.” They noted that just the portion of the judgment explaining factual findings is 320 pages long, with more than 2,000 footnotes.

Furthermore, the defense said the judgment involves complex issues of mixed fact and law, including whether all the convictions comply with Article 74(2) of the Rome Statute, as well as the requirement of fair notice. Article 74(2) provides that the decision by the trial chamber shall only be based on evidence submitted and discussed before it at the trial.

According to the defense, another component of the appeal will be “the serious damage to the fairness of the proceedings arising from the prosecution’s access, contemporaneous with the hearing of trial, to Mr. Ntaganda’s telephone conversations.” In 2015, the court granted the prosecution access to non-privileged conversations after allegations of witness interference against Ntaganda arose. During the trial, the defense argued the court order was an abuse of process and unsuccessfully tried to halt proceedings.  

The prosecution did not oppose the defense request for an extension of the deadline of up to 60 days, but in turn asked the Appeals Chamber to extend the time limit for filing the prosecution’s appeal brief from 90 days after notification of the conviction decision to 180 days. Judges rejected this request.

Judge Piotr Hofmański, who heads the Appeals Division, has designated Judge Howard Morrison as the presiding judge of any appeals against Ntaganda’s conviction.