The ICC trial of Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda will open on 2 September 2015. Here are ten facts to bring you up to speed.
1. Known as “Terminator” or “Warrior” among his troops for his tendency to lead from the front and directly participate in military operations, Ntaganda served in a number of rebel groups throughout eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for over a decade. He also served as a general in the Congolese army from 2009 to 2012.
2. Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 2002-03 during the course of a brutal conflict in the Ituri region of eastern DRC while he was deputy military head of the rebel group Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FLPC). This case marks the first time a militia leader faces sexual and gender-based charges at the ICC for crimes against child soldiers under their command.
3. From 1999, the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups were in conflict in Ituri over land and lucrative gold mines and trading routes. The localized fighting expanded after Uganda backed Congolese armed groups. The Ugandan army together with the FPLC militia launched an offensive to control the Ituri capital of Bunia, allegedly adopting an organizational policy to attack non-Hema civilians.
4. It is estimated that at least 50,000 civilians have died in Ituri since 1999, with 5,000 of these in 2002-03 alone. These are part of an estimated total of 3.3 million civilians fatalities throughout the DRC since 1998, making it the deadliest war for civilians since World War II.
5. The DRC is the ICC’s first and most active investigation. In recent years, rebel leaders leaders Thomas Lubanga and Germain Katanga have been convicted by the Court, while a third, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, was acquitted in 2012.
6. Wanted by the ICC since 2008, Ntaganda voluntarily surrendered to the United States embassy in Rwanda in 2013 after reportedly falling out with the M-23 rebel group which he commanded. He was transferred to The Hague and is currently held at the ICC detention center having been refused interim release.
7. The judges assigned to the Ntaganda case recommended holding the trial’s opening statements in Bunia to bring proceedings closer to victims and affected communities. However, the Court’s presidency decided against it, citing uncertain security, victim welfare and high costs.
8. 2149 victims have been granted the right to participate in the trial and will be represented by legal representatives Sarah Pellet and Dmytro Suprun.
9. Ntaganda is considered indigent and the costs of his defence are supported by the Court. This will be reviewed once an investigation into Ntaganda’s assets is completed.
10. One week before the scheduled trial opening in July 2015, the defence was granted more time to prepare for the trial. Another postponement request was denied last week. The opening statements will be heard from 2 to 4 September and the testimony of the first prosecution will begin on 15 September.
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