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Victims’ Views on Ntaganda’s Bid for Acquittal

Lawyers representing victims in the Bosco Ntaganda case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) want his appeal against decision of conviction to be rejected, as they believe he was correctly convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ntaganda was  convicted last year as an indirect co-perpetrator for conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities, and for rape and sexual slavery committed against child soldiers. He was also convicted as a direct perpetrator of murder and persecution.

Sarah Pellet, who represents 283 former child soldiers participating in the proceedings as victims, said Ntaganda clearly knew that because of his efforts, children aged less than 15 years would be recruited into his militia. She said he was always fully aware of the presence of child soldiers in the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) and the crimes committed against them.

In his testimony during the trial, Ntaganda denied that there were child soldiers in the FPLC. He said the militia had a policy to reject anyone aged less than 15 years old who attempted to join the group. However, in its judgement the trial chamber determined that there was widespread use of child soldiers in the militia, including in combat and guarding the group’s top commanders, among them commander-in-chief Thomas Lubanga and chief of staff Floribert Kisembo. Further, trial judges found that crimes against child soldiers were “committed in the institutionalized coercive environment of the UPC/FPLC in similar circumstances, over a period of time, and not as isolated acts.”

Pellet said Ntaganda set up a bodyguard company to protect him, which included child soldiers. “He was in daily contact and close contact with members of his escort, which lived at or near his residence and constantly accompanied him, including during combat,” added the victims’ lawyer in submissions on Ntaganda’s appeal against decision of conviction. She said the children were trained in camps set up by Ntaganda, who was one of their trainers and presided over ceremonies held at the end of the military training programs.

Further, Pellet submitted that, as the FPLC’s deputy chief of staff for operations, Ntaganda was personally responsible for deciding how recruits, including child soldiers, would be deployed after completing their military training. She said Ntaganda chose to deploy child soldiers on battlefields, and despite repeated appeals by international organizations, he and his co-perpetrators refused to demobilize them. Additionally, she said, Ntaganda played a key role in large-scale campaigns to recruit young people, by asking community leaders to help recruit children, irrespective of age, sex or size, to swell the ranks of the FPLC.

Further, the victims’ lawyers contended that sexual violence against FPLC child soldiers was a common practice and generally known and discussed within the militia, whose soldiers and commanders, including the head of Ntaganda’s escort, regularly committed sexual violence against female child soldiers.

According to victims’ lawyers, judges correctly determined that Ntaganda did not punish those crimes and that he had forced sexual intercourse with female members of his personal guard. However, defense lawyers countered that there was only one prosecution witness whose evidence led to the chamber’s finding that Ntaganda engaged in sexual violence against child soldiers. They said the chamber erred in disregarding evidence from Ntaganda and former FPLC insiders who testified that there was no rape of child soldiers in the militia.

The prosecution’s Helen Brady noted that judges rejected Ntaganda’s evidence after determining that it was not credible. She said: “Ntaganda categorically stated that rape was not accepted within the army, that he gave instructions at assemblies forbidding sleeping with the female recruits. And the chamber found that that was not credible in light of much credible evidence to the contrary.”

Dmytro Suprun, another lawyer for victims, said the appeal against conviction should be dismissed as it fails to demonstrate any error of law, procedure or fact which materially affected the trial judgment. He argued that in most cases the defense misrepresents the proceedings, the facts, and the trial chamber’s findings by repeating its previous arguments that had been dismissed by the trial chamber, or simply disagreeing with the judges’ assessment of the evidence.

Pellet reiterated this point, noting that the chamber’s findings concerning crimes against child soldiers were based on a substantial body of credible evidence, including the testimony of former child soldiers who testified about the crimes they were subjected to while in the FPLC’s ranks and the consequences of those crimes on them. She said: “The appeal should be dismissed in its entirety, as it misapprehends the evidence, the trial chamber’s reasoning, and the applicable legal framework.”