In the words of Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
“Ntaganda’s expected trial will underscore the importance of the ICC in providing accountability for the world’s worst crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to deliver justice.”
Bosco Ntaganda, a.k.a "The Terminator" faced a highly attentive Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court, ICC, on 26 March 2013, the day of his first appearance. He humbly pleaded “not guilty” before being cut off by Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova and reminded that he did not have to enter a plea.
The Terminator’s behavior has certainly been unpredictable since his inexplicable voluntary surrender on 18 March at the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. Another of Africa’s most feared warlords landed in the famous capital for international justice on 22 March 2013. We are scheduled to see the charges against him being confirmed or dismissed in hearings due to commence on 10 February 2014.
Without fear of arrest, Ntaganda lived openly in the town of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, dinning at luxurious restaurants and spotted playing tennis at the courtyard of Karibu Hotel. Meanwhile civilians were allegedly massacred by the Force Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo, FPLC, troops under his command as chief of military operations. The FPLC is a military wing of the Union Patriotic Congolaise, UPC, an armed group known for its brutality in perpetrating serious human rights abuses, namely ethnic based massacre, torture, rape, pillage, abduction and use children as soldiers. The UPC was led by another warlord, a familiarly known as Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the first sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under age 15 as soldiers and using them as active participants in hostilities in 2002-2003 was the President of the UPC.
Deadliest Conflict since World War II
While, DRC conflict by reason of its historical importance and complexity cannot be summarised in a few words it cannot be separated from the Ntaganda’s journey to the ICC. Approximately 3 to 6 million have lost their lives since 1998. Victimization range from sexual violence, recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 as soldiers. Scars of the DRC conflict cannot be ignored.
In a nutshell, the DRC gained independence from Belgium in 1960 and fell in the hands of 32 years of oppressive Mobutu rule. This was followed by a spill-over of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide which fueled the initial turmoils when Rwandan and Burundian refugees invaded into the Eastern part of the DRC. The refugees set up camp which became a defacto military base. Mobutu was destabilised by Laurent Kabila with support from Rwanda and Sudan. Mobutu was later overthrown with additional military support of troops from Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
While the DRC was freed from bitter Mobutu years, the second Congolese war broke out in 1998, lasting 5 years. Violence escalated, and multiple actors became even more involved, namely: Rwanda, Uganda, Namibia and Zimbabwe and 25 ethnic militias. Needless to say, the DRC has been dragged from one chain of turmoil to another.
At present the on-going conflict is exacerbated by the DRC armed forces failing to operate under the full control of the central government and targeting the trying to control of the trade in minerals and gold for their own personal benefit. DRC’s future looks bleak as the involvement of several multinational corporation in the scramble for natural resources and funding armed groups by conducting business with them. Needless to say, the DRC has been dragged from one chain of turmoil to another with ruthless and violent actors involved.
Quest for Peace
In an attempt to transition into peace, the Lusaka Peace Accord was signed in 1999. At the same time, the Security Council established the United Nations Organization Mission, MONUSCO, to observe the ceasefire and disengagement of forces and maintain the cooperation of the signatories of the Peace Accord. In 2002 Laurent Kabila was murdered succeeded by his son who became a valiant negotiator. He partly succeeded at negotiating the withdrawal of the Rwandan forces. All the while, crimes against humanity and war crimes continued to be were perpetrated between September 2002 until September 2003 by the FPLC allegedly led by Ntaganda.
In 2009 an armed group led an insurgence in eastern DRC. The group is formed by Tutsi rebels. The government and the Tutsi rebels signed a peace agreement to integrated the rebels into the Congolese military, but in 2012 they defected and formed an armed group called M23. Ntaganda initially lead a mutiny, and he and his forces joined with other rebels to form this new armed group, M23, which battled Congolese and UN troops in eastern Congo. We now hear of the M23 operating essentially for the government however they have been accounts of them committing acts of violence as well. To make matters worse it is not the only military group, the multiplicity of actors have not been solved.
In February of this year, 11 African countries signed the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in which they agreed to cease interference in the territory of the DRC and commit to a monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance with the peace deal. The impact and implementation of this latest agreement remains uncertain. Is this another make believe attempt to transition to peace? The agreed ceasefire between the Congolese arm and M23 has only lasted approximately two months, and on July 14 residents in the East of the DRC report abuse, rape and killings allegdly being perpetrated by M23 force with Rwandan support.
Road to the International Criminal Court
The Prosecutor of the ICC initiated an investigation in the DRC in 2004. 6 accused are indicted, one of which, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo has been sentenced to 12 years. Recently Ntaganda surrendered himself into ICC custody. Also known as one of Africa’s most notorious warlords, the privileged fugitive, was once wanted by the ICC in a first warrant of arrest in 2006 followed by a second one in 2012. From accounts that he was terrorizing innocents, he referred to himself a simple soldier during his initial appearance before the ICC. General Bosco Ntaganda’s command for over 10 years, he is wanted since 2006 for allegedly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in northeastern Congo in 2002 and 2003, including recruiting and using child soldiers, murder, rape and sexual slavery, and persecution.
Ntaganda at the ICC – What does this mean?
The ICC is burdened with great expectations. Too often it is expected to provide healing for all wounds caused in conflicts. Though international in nature, the ICC was never intended to be the “World’s” criminal court. Indeed, the Rome Statute which is its primary legal instrument, negotiated and ratified mainly by states does not provide for primary jurisdiction over Genocide, Crimes against Humanity or War Crimes. Its existence is entrenched under the principle of complementarity, which essentially means that the ICC is to “complement” national judicial systems retain their responsibility for trying perpetrators of crimes. Therefore, it remains the duty of every nation to prosecute perpetrators of those grave crimes. Nevertheless the significance of cases such as that of Ntaganda is not negligible. It reinforces the principle that no crime should go unpunished and hierarchy is not a bar to prosecution.
The ICC’ s Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda when welcoming Ntaganda’s transfer declared: "Today those who have long suffered at the hands of Bosco Ntaganda can look forward to the future and the prospect of justice secured." Rightly so, the function of the ICC is to bring justice though limited it may be. The ICC through the cases and situations it investigates demonstrate that it remains dedicated to victims of conflicts and seeks to establish the truth when it can.
Reporting from Cambridge University