|Mr. Bosco Ntaganda at his first hearing at the ICC. Photo Credit: ICC-CPI.|
By Maryne Rondot and Catherine Mullin
On Monday, March 18, 2013, after six years of evading capture, Bosco Ntaganda walked into the US Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda and asked to be turned over to the International Criminal Court. This came as a surprise to the Embassy, which was not expecting Ntaganda. Recently Mr. Ntaganda was thought to have been living in luxury in Goma, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende, "Ntaganda had crossed into Rwanda on Saturday with help from the Rwandan army." Ntaganda stayed at the US Embassy until a team from the ICC arrived in Kigali on the 20th to assist the US government with "logistical arrangements". He was finally transferred to The Hague on March 22nd. The US government thanked the Rwandan, Dutch, and British government for assisting in Ntaganda´s transfer, but the specific nature of the involvement of each government has not been made public.
Ntaganda is a Tutsi Congolese national born in Rwanda 1973. As a teenager, Mr Ntaganda fled to Mgungu, in eastern DRC, following attacks on his fellow ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda. His military career started in 1990. At the age of 17, he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels in southern Uganda, which was led by the current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. He fought under his command to end the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He was subsequently integrated into the Rwandan army and participated in 1996 in its invasion of Congo. This conflict is considered to be Congo’s first international war. He then moved among various Congolese rebel groups until 2002 when he became the deputy chief of the general staff of the FPLC, the military wing of the political and militia group Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) led by Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and operating in the mineral-rich Ituri region in northeastern DRC. In January 2005, DRC authorities offered Ntaganda the position of general in the newly established Congolese army, in an attempt to end the conflict in Ituri, but Ntaganda refused. In 2006, Ntaganda left the FPLC because of differences within the UPC and joined Laurent Nkunda’s Congres National pour la Defense du Peuple (CNDP), a rebel group operating in North Kivu. In 2009, with the alleged support of Rwandan officials, Ntaganda took over the leadership of the rebel group and agreed to integrate it into the Congolese army as part of a peace agreement. Ntaganda was promoted to general and deputy commander of military operations in eastern Congo in exchange for ending the group’s rebellion. In 2012, Ntaganda led the early stages of a mutiny. He and his forces joined with other rebels to form a new armed group, M23, which battled Congolese and UN troops in eastern Congo. According to the Congolese government, after the M23 split, Ntaganda fled in mid- March across the border into neighboring Rwanda with hundreds of other rebels fleeing the in-fighting within the M23.
Ntaganda has been nicknamed ‘terminator’ and once was described as someone who "kills people easily". He was first indicted by the ICC in 2006. ICC judges issued an arrest warrant against ‘Bosco Ntaganda, alleged former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC)’, for three counts of the war crime of enlisting, conscripting and using children under the age of 15 in armed conflict. In July 2012, ICC judges issued a second arrest warrant adding three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, rape and sexual slavery, and persecution) and four counts of war crimes (murder, attacks against the civilian population, rape and sexual slavery, and pillaging). The second warrant was the result of evidence presented during the trial of warlord Thomas Lubanga. Mr. Lubanga was the first person to be found guilty by the Court.
Ntaganda made his first appearance at The Hague on March 26th. The hearing was intended to confirm Ntaganda´s identity and inform Mr. Ntaganda of the charges being brought against him. Mr. Ntaganda took the chance to say he was aware of the charges, but that he was not guilty of any of them. The Judge informed Mr. Ntaganda that he did not have to enter a plea at the hearing. Ntaganda stated that he was born in Rwanda and his profession was that of a soldier in the Congo. His court appointed lawyer requested that Mr. Ntaganda to be released while awaiting trial. The confirmation of charges hearing, that will assess the strength of the evidence and confirm or reject the charges in the case against Mr. Ntaganda, is set for September 23rd.