On 8 July 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) gave its verdict on the case against the Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda. The court concluded that the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. Ntaganda was found guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 2002-2003 in the area of Ituri. The judgement was announced on Monday at a public hearing at the seat of the Court in the Hague.
In the unanimous decision by the three-panel bench, Ntaganda was found guilty of crimes against humanity that include: rape, murder and attempted murder, sexual slavery, persecution, forcible transfer, and deportation. War crimes include: attacking and displacing civilians, pillaging, recruiting and using child soldiers and attacking protected objects. Details of the atrocities of which Ntaganda was found guilty include children being disembowelled or having their heads smashed in.
Bosco Ntaganda was the deputy chief of staff of the military wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). He was nicknamed the “Terminator” for his ruthlessness in the revolt against the Lendu community. Human rights groups estimate that more than 60, 000 people have been killed in eastern Congo since violence erupted in the region in 1999.
The soft-spoken Ntaganda denied the nickname and maintained that he was a revolutionary, not a criminal. He alleged that being a soldier should not be a crime. In his defence at trial, Ntaganda’s team of lawyers argued that he was a victim himself, having been recruited as a child soldier as well.
The conviction is a clear message, that the most heinous crimes known to humanity will not go unpunished. Still, there are reservations over whether the verdict will foster long-lasting peace in the region. Civil rights groups working in the Ituri area are skeptical about whether or not punishing the crimes will bring any good. Some have cited that victims of the 2002 atrocities are long dead. Their main concern is that crimes need to be prevented and that peace should be restored in the region. In the recent past, security in the region has deteriorated.
The ICC has been under fire in the recent past, with a range of allegations targeting its jurisdiction to its relevance in a world of sovereign nations. One of the biggest criticisms against the Court has been that all the suspects tried so far have been from African states. The Ntaganda case was however unique in that he was the first suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC. In 2013, Ntaganda went to the US embassy in Kigali Rwanda asking to be sent to the court at the Hague.
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