This week, International Criminal Court (ICC) judges provided an extra two months to experts to complete their report on the nature of reparations in the Bosco Ntaganda case. The extension was necessary as restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 meant that the experts were making slower progress than had been anticipated.
With the experts’ report now due at the end of October, the defense and victims’ lawyers will have up to mid-December of this year, rather than October, to make their final submissions on reparations in the case. These extensions in effect lengthen the victims’ wait for the reparations order.
Two months ago, Trial Chamber VI appointed four experts to provide guidance on the nature and scope of reparations to Ntaganda’s victims and instructed them to submit their report by August 28, 2020. However, earlier this month the experts requested an extension to November 28 to complete the report. They noted that virtual working, and communicating remotely among themselves and with the relevant sections of the court, slowed their work.
According to the experts, it was impossible to organize a field mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the circumstances, all meetings with victims were held remotely, and only one meeting with one victim per day could be facilitated through the ICC office in Bunia, eastern Congo.
Further, the experts cited the complexities of producing a joint report in the absence of any in-person meetings, yet they also needed interpretation between English and French.
In the ruling, the chamber said the experts had shown good cause for extending the time limit but considered that an extension of two months, rather the three requested, was sufficient. According to the chamber, an extension to the end of October would allow the experts to integrate into their report any conclusions based on the information that the court’s Registry will collect from a sample of victims on the harms they suffered and their needs. The Registry’s report, which will also identify victims that are potentially eligible for reparations, is due by September 30.
The court’s Regulation 35(2) provides that the chamber may extend or reduce deadlines if good cause is shown. Trial Chamber VI, which is composed of judges Chang-ho Chung (presiding), Robert Fremr, and Olga Herrera Carbuccia, cited the difficulties encountered by the experts in having remote meetings with victims to obtain their views and concerns through the ICC office due to COVID-19-related restrictions and the local security situation.
The judges also noted that since the experts would produce a joint report, a greater level of coordination between them was necessary, but they faced the challenge of remote communication and the need for interpretation between English and French.
The experts’ report will cover Ntaganda’s scope of liability; and the scope, extent, and evolution of the harm suffered by direct and indirect victims, including the long-term consequences of the crimes on the affected communities and the potential cost of repair. The report will address sexual violence, in particular sexual slavery, and its consequences on direct and indirect victims. It will also cover the appropriate modalities of reparations.
Ntaganda was convicted last July on 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed during 2002 and 2003 while he served as the deputy chief of staff of a militia known as the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo. He is appealing the conviction and his 30-year prison sentence. A hearing on his appeals had been scheduled to begin at the end of last month but was indefinitely postponed due to challenges posed by COVID-19.
The experts’ report shall be provided to parties to the proceedings, the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), the ICC’s Victims Participation and Reparations Section, and the Office of the Prosecutor. Parties to the proceedings and the TFV will have up to December 18, 2020 to file final submissions on the report and to make any other last arguments for judges to consider before they issue the reparations order.