Bosco Ntaganda, whom the United States calls “one of the most notorious and brutal rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” has arrived at the International Criminal Court in The Hague after being transported by court officials from Rwanda. Ntaganda is a Congolese warlord who has been operating with impunity in eastern Congo on and off for more than a decade. This marks the first time that a suspect of the court has surrendered himself voluntarily into its custody.
It has been a dramatic few days leading up to his arrival in The Hague, and the involvement of the US in the process put it in a key role with the court, of which it is not a member. In the Netherlands, Ntaganda will remain in the ICC’s detention facility and receive a medical visit, officials there said; he will appear, as soon as possible, before court judges with a defense lawyer. At the hearing, Ntaganda will be informed of the charges against him. A date for the opening of the confirmation charges hearing, a first step to decide whether the case will be referred to a trial or not, will be set.
Ntaganda faces two arrest warrants, dating from Aug. 22, 2006 and July 13, 2012. As the former alleged deputy chief of the FPLC (which stands for, in French, the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo), Ntaganda is suspected of seven counts of war crimes: enlistment of children under age 15; conscription of children under age 15, using children under age 15 to participate actively in hostilities; murder, attacks against the civilian population, rape and sexual slavery, and pillaging; and three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, rape and sexual slavery and persecution) allegedly committed in Congo from September 2002 to the end of September 2003.
“This is an important moment for all who believe in justice and accountability,” the statement from John Kerry, the US secretary of state, read. “For nearly seven years, Ntaganda was a fugitive from justice, evading accountability for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and mass atrocities against innocent civilians, including rape, murder, and the forced recruitment of thousands of Congolese children as soldiers. Now there is hope that justice will be done.”
Ntaganda, to the surprise of international and local officials and to the relief of the Congolese government, turned himself into the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, this week, after his relatively new militia, called the M23, broke apart and his life was possibly in danger by rebels newly opposed to his leadership. His militia was said to have been financed by the Rwandan government, but it denies that link.
Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, said in a statement, “This is a good day for victims in DRC and for international justice. Today those who are alleged to have long suffered at the hands of Bosco Ntaganda can look forward to the future and the prospect of justice taking its course.” (DRC is shorthand for the Congolese nation.)
Bensouda acknowledged the support of American, Rwandan and Dutch authorities in helping to arrange the transfer of Ntaganda from Kigali, as well as “the continued cooperation of the DRC.” She added that “as we welcome progress in one case, others also subject to ICC warrants in the region remain at large.”
She was referring to efforts to arrest Sylvestre Mudacumura, the commander of the Hutu rebel group operating under the FDLR name (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda); the top commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, who reportedly continue to commit grave crimes in Congo and beyond; and all others subject to International Criminal Court warrants still at large, including the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir.
Like the US, Rwanda is not a member of the international court, the first permanent judicial body to prosecute atrocity crimes and founded more than a decade ago. Even though the US has not ratified the treaty governing the court, the Rome Statute, it has thrown more support behind it under the Obama administration. The US government also thanked the Rwandan and Dutch governments for their involvement in the Ntaganda transfer, as well as the British government for cooperating in the delivery and “his expected surrender to The Hague.”
Kerry’s statement went on to say, “Ultimately, peace and stability in the D.R.C. and the Great Lakes will require the restoration of civil order, justice, and accountability. Ntaganda’s expected appearance before the International Criminal Court in The Hague will contribute to that goal, and will also send a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities that they will be held accountable for their crimes.”
Securing Ntaganda’s presence in The Hague may also help tighten relations between the court and the US.
“It’s one further example of how the work of the ICC serves US national interests, and how the US can use its resources and political support to further the work of the Court,” said Matthew Heaphy, deputy convener for the American Nongovernmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court, part of Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.
“It was an ideal opportunity for the US to assist the ICC because it didn’t require any US funds or other action that could violate existing anti-ICC legislation,” Heaphy continued. “It also shows that while the ICC process may take time, it is a permanent court which will be there when suspects are finally arrested or decide that they are better off going to The Hague than facing other eventualities.” [This article was updated on March 25, 2013.]