July 3, 2015 / 4:48 PM / 2 years ago

Hague judges give warlord's lawyers more time to prepare

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court on Friday postponed the trial of Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, accused of leading a militia in a campaign marked by rape and murder, after his lawyers said they needed more time to build his defense case.

Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda appears at the International Criminal Court charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in a hearing in The Hague February 10, 2014. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos/Pool

A further delay to the trial of Ntaganda, which had been due to start on Tuesday, could fuel criticism that international courts are too slow-moving, taking many years to hand down verdicts that would take months in national jurisdictions.

The trial of Ntaganda, who has been in custody since 2013, was rescheduled for September 2.

In submissions made last week, published today in heavily redacted form, defense lawyers said Ntaganda would not receive a fair trial if proceedings began before they were fully prepared.

Ntaganda, who surrendered to the United States embassy in Rwanda in 2013 after almost a decade on the run, is accused of leading a militia that raped and murdered its way across eastern Congo’s mineral-rich North Kiwu province in the early 2000s.

The ICC has handed down just three verdicts since it was set up in 2003, despite bringing a total of 22 cases.

Defenders of it and other international courts say the cases they handle are complex and that investigations in dangerous, war-ravaged regions are harder to conduct.

Nonetheless, many cases have lasted years. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor spent six years on trial before being convicted of war crimes in Sierra Leone’s civil war and sentenced to 50 years.

Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s trial at another court in the city lasted three years and ended with his death in custody.

Often sidelined over its first decade, the ICC is increasingly in the spotlight as it starts to involve itself in some of the world’s most controversial conflicts, earlier this year opening an inquiry into alleged crimes in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Reporting By Thomas Escritt; editing by Ralph Bouton

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