On Monday, 9 June, ICC judges decided that there were substantial grounds to believe that former Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda had committed 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from 2002-2003 and sent his case to trial.
William Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC:
“We hope that this trial will reinforce that the decades of impunity in the Great Lakes Region of Africa are ending, and that those who commit and order the worst crimes—rebel leaders, generals, government leaders—should prepare for an age of accountability. That would be the only way to honor the victims.”
Ntaganda is charged with 13 counts of war crimes, including the enlistment, conscription and use of children under the age of 15 to participate in hostilities, as well as murder, attacks against a civilian population, pillaging and rape and sexual slavery. He is also charged with five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, persecution, rape, sexual slavery and forcible transfer of people.
Ntaganda was allegedly the deputy chief of staff of the Forces Patriotiques pour la Liberation du Congo in 2002 and 2003, when the group allegedly led widespread and systematic attacks against the non-Hema civilian population in the DRC’s Ituri Province. Ntaganda was most recently affiliated with the M23 rebel group in the DRC.
Two arrest warrants were issued for Ntaganda before he surrendered himself and was transferred into ICC custody in March 2013.
“The confirmation of charges against Ntaganda is a microcosm of the tragic and complex situation of international justice and the ICC. Ntaganda stands accused of 18 different crimes committed in 2002 and 2003, but continued for another decade as a rebel, soldier and government officer. Ironically, he turned himself in to be transferred to the ICC, reportedly to avoid being killed. The victims of grave crimes against civilians in the DRC continue to wait decades for justice.”
The crimes with which Ntaganda is charged were allegedly committed during two specific attacks in the Banyali-Kilo collectivité in November-December 2002 and the Walendu-Djatsi collectivité in February 2003.
Flory Kazingufu of the Chirezi Foundation:
“The case against Bosco Ntaganda is seen as a strong message sent to the perpetrators of crimes in eastern DRC. It clearly indicates that justice will be done regardless of the rank or position of the accused, which is a great relief for the victims and the public. This first step is welcomed but must be followed through to the end.”
The confirmation of the charges of rape and sexual slavery in particular has been welcomed by some members of civil society.
Brigid Inder, executive director of Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice:
“This is a very important decision. For the first time, a militia commander is being sent to trial before an international court facing charges of rape and sexual slavery committed against child soldiers within his own militia and under his command This case involves crimes of sexual violence committed against child soldiers as well as against the civilian population and rightly captures the complexity of the different types of victims of these crimes.”
The Presidency of the ICC will now move to constitute a chamber of judges for Ntaganda’s trial. However, both the prosecution and the defense can appeal the judges’ ruling.