Bosco Ntaganda and the International Criminal Court: Questions and Answers

28/08/2015
Press release

As the trial against Bosco Ntaganda opens at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday 2 September 2015, FIDH and its member organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Groupe Lotus, Ligue des Electeurs and ASADHO, issue this Q&A to explain the importance of these criminal proceedings.

Who is Bosco Ntaganda?

Bosco Ntaganda, dubbed “The Terminator,” is a Rwandan-born former rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ntaganda acted as Deputy Chief of Staff and commander of operations of the rebel group Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC), the military unit of the Union of Congolese Patriots, before later being appointed to the rank of General in the Congolese army by President Joseph Kabila in 2009. He is accused of playing a key role in attacks on civilians committed in the Eastern Ituri province in 2002-2003, during which ethnic tensions were instrumentalized.

What are the accusations against Bosco Ntaganda?

Ntaganda and his FPLC troops allegedly committed brutal atrocities against the non-Hema population in the DRC’s Ituri province in 2002-2003. The ICC Prosecutor, at Ntaganda’s Confirmation of Charges hearing in 2014, explained how Ntaganda led ethnic Hema troops to attack the Lendu, Bira and Nande populations and drive them out of the mineral-rich region of Ituri, committing crimes such as massacres, rapes and sexual slavery, among others, including through the use of child soldiers, who were also victims of sexual crimes committed by Ntaganda’s troops. Ntaganda is charged not only with the perpetration of these crimes (including ordering their commission and committing them through his troops), but also with failing in his duty as commander to prevent and punish the commission of such crimes by his subordinates.

Ntaganda is charged with thirteen counts of war crimes, including murder and attempted murder; attacking civilians; rape; sexual slavery of civilians; pillaging; displacement of civilians; attacking protected objects; destroying the enemy’s property; and rape, sexual slavery, enlistment and conscription of child soldiers under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities. He is also charged with five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder and attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, and forcible transfer of population.

Why has it taken so long to bring Ntaganda to trial?

Although he was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006 and again in 2012, Ntaganda and his troops were integrated into the Congolese army in 2009. As a general in the army, he was stationed in the eastern city of Goma, successfully skirting justice for the crimes he allegedly committed in years prior. However, in 2012 he and his fighters joined a new rebel group, the M23. Following an internal power struggle between factions, in a surprise turn of events Ntaganda voluntarily surrendered himself to the United States Embassy in Rwanda. He was transferred to the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands in March 2013.

Why is the case against Ntaganda so important for victims?

Ntaganda’s case is unique in that the accused held a senior position in a rebel armed group when the alleged crimes were committed, and later received the official rank of senior military official within the DRC armed forces. It is also the first of the DRC cases in which the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber has confirmed all charges of sexual and gender-based crimes sought by the Prosecutor. Thirdly, it is the first time that the ICC has charged acts of rape and sexual slavery committed against child soldiers under an official’s command, within his militia group, as well as against civilians. These charges are more representative of the full spectrum of harm suffered by victims, particularly victims of sexual and gender-based violence, than in previous cases before the ICC, when these particular crimes were overlooked in the Pre-Trial phase. FIDH has repeatedly called for an increased focus on sexual and gender-based crimes, both as part of the prosecutorial strategy of the ICC’s OTP and at the national level within the DRC. It is important that Ntaganda has been charged with these crimes because it indicates both that the OTP has begun implementing its 2014 policy on sexual and gender-based crimes, and it allows the victims to be recognized, participate in the proceedings, and to potentially receive reparations for what they have suffered.

During the confirmation of the charges against Bosco Ntaganda, 297 ex-child soldiers and 1851 victims of alleged FPLC attacks, totaling 2,148victims were granted participating status.

Participation in trial proceedings is a right guaranteed to victims by the ICC. Their participation is a key part of the accountability process and thus constitutes an essential component of justice. Finally, if Mr. Ntaganda is convicted, victims of his crimes may be eligible for reparations.

Why is the International Criminal Court involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

In April 2004, the President of the DRC requested that the Prosecutor of the ICC open an investigation into potential international crimes committed in the DRC. The DRC was one of the first countries to ratify the Rome Statute in 2002, granting the ICC jurisdiction from that point forward over both DRC nationals and crimes committed within its territory. After receiving this referral from the DRC, the Prosecutor conducted a preliminary examination. The Prosecutor determined that the situation in the country fell within the jurisdiction of the Court both because of the types of crimes committed as well as the lack of willingness and/or capacity of the national justice system to genuinely investigate crimes and prosecute suspects. Thus, the ICC proceeded to open an investigation in June 2004.

The very first trials held at the ICC were of suspects from the DRC accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2002-2003 ethnic conflict in Ituri. To date, three trials have been completed at the ICC concerning this situation: Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Germain Katanga have both been convicted and sentenced; Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was acquitted. Mr. Lubanga was convicted for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting of children under the age of 15 years into the Force patriotique pour la libération du Congo (FPLC) and using them to participate actively in hostilities. Mr Ntaganda was then the FPLC’s deputy chief of staff. Charges against Callixte Mbarushimana were not confirmed, the proceedings against him were thus terminated before the trial stage. One other suspect, Sylvestre Mudacumura remain at large, wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Read more
communique