The International Criminal Court said on Monday it had filed charges against former warlord Bosco Ntaganda, nicknamed “The Terminator”, for war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He will in coming months join the growing list of Africans on trial at the ICC. All 15 of the cases currently before the court have been against Africans, an issue that has bred controversy in recent times.
The judges “unanimously confirmed charges consisting in 18 counts of war crimes… and crimes against humanity,” against Ntaganda, including rape, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers, the Hague-based court in a statement.
The judges pored over 69,000 pages of evidence before concluding there were clear grounds to charge him with “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” between 2002 and 2003 when he was military chief of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
The militant group, drawn from the Hema ethnic group in the conflict-ravaged east of the country, carried out brutal sectarian attacks against non-Hema groups including the Lendu, Bira and Nande.
Fighting in eastern DRC has left some 60,000 dead since 1999, exacerbated by the wealth of mineral resources in the region, notably gold and minerals used in electronic products. Ntaganda, who is now 41, was one of the most sought-after fugitives in the Great Lakes region of Africa until March 2013, when he handed himself in voluntarily.
He moved between several militant groups prior to his decision to hand himself in. For three years he served as an army general but in April 2012 he mutinied and formed the M23 rebel group that temporarily seized control of parts of eastern DRC. When the M23 split into bitterly opposed factions and lost the outside support of the Rwandan government, Ntaganda fled for his life to the US embassy in Rwanda and asked for a transfer to the ICC.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the charges, which also include murder, pillaging and persecution. “Ntaganda’s trial should motivate the ICC prosecutor to take her investigation in Congo to the next level and go after the senior officials ultimately responsible for the region’s atrocities,” said the group’s international justice advocacy director, Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner.
“Ntaganda’s upcoming trial will send a powerful message to those responsible for grave crimes in Congo that justice will eventually catch up with them,” she added.
The charges against Ntaganda are focused on two specific incidents—one in the area of Banyali-Kilo between November and December 2002 and one in Walendu-Djatsu the following February. The evidence was presented during hearings in February. The date of Ntaganda’s trial has yet to be announced.
Former FPLC commander Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012 for conscripting children under 15 and using them in hostilities.
DRC has been a member of the ICC since 2002 and launched investigations in the country two years later after receiving a request from President Laurent Kabila. (AFP)