UN Court Pauses Pretrial Hearing in African War Crimes Case

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – A preliminary hearing in the International Criminal Court to decide whether to hold a trial for two former African officials accused of human rights violations was halted abruptly Wednesday, as the judges called for written responses from prosecutors.

Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona stands during his initial appearance before the judges of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Jan. 25, 2019. (Koen Van Well/Pool photo via AP, File)

Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona’s defense team was scheduled to give its final remarks Wednesday morning but Timoleon Kokongo, Ngaissona’s lawyer from the Central African Republic, or CAR, had finished his presentation early the day before.

The second portion of Wednesday’s hearing was reserved from questions from the judges in the ICC, the United Nations’ judicial body for atrocity crimes.

But when the proceedings resumed, Presiding Judge Antoine Kesia‐Mbe Mindua announced that the three-judge panel was requesting a written submission from the prosecution in lieu of oral questions.

The prosecution will now have until Oct. 3 to respond to points brought up by the defense over the last three days of hearings, after which the defense teams for both men, as well as the legal representatives of the 1,096 identified victims, will have another week to respond.

Ngaissona and his co-defendant, Alfred Yekatom, are both natives of the CAR and have been charged with murder, torture and the use of child soldiers during the central African country’s civil war in 2012. They are accused of leading Christian militia forces that targeted Muslims.

Hearings have been ongoing for the past week at the ICC to determine if there is sufficient evidence to move forward with the case.

Defense arguments have focused on complaints about an alleged lack of access to evidence and emphasized that the CAR was in the midst of a civil war, in which both sides engaged in violence.

On Tuesday, Geert-Jan Alexander Knoops, lead counsel for the Ngaissona defense team, described his client as being “known for his moral strength and his boundless generosity” rather than the violent militia leader the prosecution had described.

Judge Mindua commended Knoops when the attorney offered to provide citations for some of the issues that the defense team put forth about the 111 charges levied against the men.

“I encourage such friendly cooperation between the parties,” the judge said. Mindua has frequently praised the lawyers for sticking to their allotted time during the hearings.

The court will hear closing arguments in the case on Oct. 11, rather than Friday, as originally scheduled.

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