21 Dec Another Problem in the Lubanga Trial
The senior trial lawyer in charge of the first case to be tried at the International Criminal Court has been taken off the case little more than a month before the trial is due to open, the Telegraph understands.
Ekkehard Withopf, a highly experienced German prosecutor, has worked on the case of Thomas Lubanga, an alleged warlord from the Democratic Republic of Congo, since joining the court four-and-a-half years ago. He is named on a ruling issued by the court as recently as yesterday.
But a spokesman for the prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, told the Telegraph today that the prosecution team would now be led by Fatou Bensouda, the Deputy Prosecutor.
The spokesman did not deny that Mr Withopf had been removed from the case by Mr Moreno Ocampo but said the trial lawyer had not been dismissed from his post in the prosecutor’s office.
The spokesman was not prepared to comment on Mr Moreno Ocampo’s reasons for taking Mr Withopf off the case and Mr Withopf himself was not speaking to reporters. But sources at the court said that Mr Withopf had clashed with his boss on how the case should be handled.
Observers believe that Mr Moreno Ocampo will find it much harder to prove his case against the defendant without Mr Withopf on the team.
A former assistant professor at the University of Würzburg, former judge at the Würzburg and Nürnberg regional courts and former public prosecutor in Karlsruhe, Mr Withopf spent five years as a trial lawyer and subsequently a senior trial lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague before taking up his present post.
We can only hope that Bensouda, who is a former ICTR prosecutor, has been no less involved in the day-to-day preparation of the case than Withhopf. But even if she is, it is still troubling that the OTP is still not on the same page in Lubanga five weeks from the beginning of trial.