Ntaganda trial opening pushed to September

DRC militia leader Bosco Ntaganda. © AFP

 

The trial of Bosco Ntaganda, which was earlier scheduled to open at the International Criminal Court (ICC) next week, has been postponed to September 2.

In a status conference this afternoon, trial judges delayed the opening statements and the testimony of the first prosecution witness, following a last minute request for adjournment filed by the defense.

According to a statement from the court, in deciding on the defense’s motion, judges took into account that the prosecution did not oppose the request by Mr. Ntaganda’s lawyers and also had regard to their obligations under the Rome Statute to ensure the fairness of the trial and the rights of the accused.

In the June 29, 2015 appeal for postponement, defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon argued that “prevailing circumstances” made it impossible for the proceedings against the former Congolese military leader to be fair. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the prosecution was not opposed to a “reasonable delay” to the start of the trial in order to allow the defense finalize its investigations. She proposed a September 7 start date.

In today’s ruling, judges decided that opening statements would be heard from September 2 to 4, while the testimony of the first witness would start on September 15, 2015, instead of August 24 as earlier scheduled.

Mr. Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, and using child soldiers. The crimes were allegedly committed during 2002 and 2003 while he served as the deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), in Congo’s Ituri district.

Thomas Lubanga, the commander-in-chief of the FPLC and its political wing, the Union of Congolese Patriots, was in 2012 sentenced to 14 years imprisonment over the enlistment, recruitment and use of child soldiers in armed conflict. Mr. Ntaganda, against whom the court issued a first arrest warrant in 2006, has been in the custody of the ICC since March of 2013.

This post originally appeared in the International Justice Monitor.