In The Hague, Netherlands, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently dealing with the case of militia leader Bosco Ntaganda. The 42-year old was the military chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a fighting group operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). His resume furthermore includes positions in the Rwandan Patriotic Army and the Patriotic Forces for the liberation of the Congo. Ntaganda is fearfully known as ‘The Terminator’.
The International Criminal Court persecuted Ntaganda until March of 2013 when he voluntarily surrendered to the U.S. embassy in Rwanda and was taken into custody by the International Criminal Court. Ntaganda is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the savage ethnic attacks on civilians in the northeastern province of Ituri in 2002-2003. Human Rights Groups believe that this conflict has caused over 60.000 deaths since 1999. Ntaganda’s crimes include the enlisting and conscripting of child soldiers. The allegations go further to state that female members of his children army were gang raped and forced to marry Ntaganda’s soldiers. Overall, Ntaganda faces 18 accounts of war crimes.
On the first day of the trial, the prosecution articulated that they were charging Ntaganda with ordering hundreds of deaths in ethnic attacks, the recruitment of child soldiers and rape of the same. Ntaganda used his chance for defense on the second day of the trial, stating that he was never a killer, but always a protector of the people.
The trial will continue on September 15th with witnesses being called to testify in front of the International Criminal Court. The trial appears to be a clear cut case and it is likely that Ntaganda will be sentenced guilty and spend time in prison. However, Ntaganda is only being tried for his involvement in an ethnic attack over 10 years ago. Human Rights Activists and experts on the DRC believe that Ntaganda is responsible for far more war crimes than ‘just’ an attack on one ethnic group. Facing criticism about this narrow approach the ICC claimed that an investigation about Ntaganda’s involvement over the period between the start of the conflict and the time he handed himself in, would be impossible to carry out. Blaming missing resources, the question arises whether this trial would be fully effective.
It is likely that Ntaganda will be declared guilty of war crimes and face punishment, however, the full story about his actions will not be revealed. He will never be held fully responsible for his cruelty. Though this might not necessarily be important to the verdict, it reveals that the ICC is not able to fully investigate cases. The ICC already struggles with effectiveness due to the complexity of international trials, resulting in long, drawn-out legal proceedings. Furthermore, the inability to fully investigate the Ntaganda case undermines the deterrent effect it could have on other warlords and wrongdoers around the world.
The ICC’s inefficiency in the Ntaganda trial further reduces the ‘scare factor’ that the ICC has and it will ultimately have little to no impact on warlords recruiting child soldiers in the DRC. Though it seems difficult and over simplified, the ICC has to develop an intimidating presence. Full investigations of perpetrators, like Ntaganda, where he or she takes full responsibility for their actions and further shines light on other warlords in the DRC is needed. That is the only way victims and relatives of the victims can have a sense of closure. Only if the ICC can run an effective investigation and trial, will it have a deterrent effect on perpetrators. It is only then that justice can be served to crimes of the past, assisting humanity in taking a step towards a future without child soldiers.