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Case against Congolese militia leader is test for global court

Source: Reuters - Mon, 10 Feb 2014 00:00 GMT
Author: Reuters
hum-war
Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda looks on during his first appearance before judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool
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* Global court has secured one conviction in 11 years

* Ntaganda charged with war crimes during Congo conflict

* Chief prosecutor has promised cases will be "trial-ready"

THE HAGUE, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda appears at the International Criminal Court on Monday charged with war crimes and other atrocities in a hearing that will be a test for the global legal institution after a string of troubled cases.

Ntaganda is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder and rape, all allegedly committed during a 2002-03 conflict in the mineral-rich east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has yet to enter a plea.

The court, 11 years old this year, has handed down just one conviction - jailing another Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, for 14 years in 2012 for using child soldiers.

Ntaganda, who is believed to be aged around 41, handed himself in to the U.S. embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali last March after a 15-year career as a commander in a series of rebellions in Congo's Ituri province.

Shortly after his arrival in The Hague, stretched prosecutors asked for time to rebuild a case which had been dormant during five years Ntaganda spent on the run.

At Monday's confirmation of charges hearing, the lawyers will lay out their arguments that the evidence they have marshalled is strong enough to merit a full trial.

The session will be a test of chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's promise that cases will be "trial ready" by the time they come to court - an implicit response to criticisms by academics and member states of earlier cases which collapsed when judges ruled evidence was not strong enough.

"The court is struggling, and the prosecutor, with her new strategy, has been trying to turn something around," said Bill Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University.

"The new strategy was a good sign, showing there was a sense of dissatisfaction with how things were going," he added.

Judges are due to decide over the next few weeks whether to suspend their most high profile current case - against Kenya's president on charges of orchestrating violence following 2007 elections - after prosecutors said several witnesses had withdrawn. Uhuru Kenyatta denies the charges.

Two other prominent figures facing charges - Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the ousted Libyan leader - remain beyond the court's reach because their countries refuse to surrender them.

Wars in Congo have killed about five million people in the past decade and a half, and many eastern areas are still afflicted by violence from a number of rebel groups despite a decade-long U.N. peacekeeping mission. (Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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