The international community and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rarely agree on an issue. But in the case of General Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda there is a clear consensus that he should be apprehended and held accountable for his actions.
Ntaganda has been wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) since 2006 for allegedly recruiting child soldiers during Congo’s five-year civil war. Until recently, his arrest had been resisted by Congolese President Joseph Kabila who saw cooperation with him essential for peace.
That changed in April when Ntaganda defected and launched a rebellion against the government from Masisi, his stronghold in eastern Congo. The Congolese army appears to be closing in on Ntaganda after regaining control of key towns in Masisi and fighting is ongoing. Reports indicate that he has been replaced as the leader of the rebellion, which suggest that his days could be numbered.
Since Thomas Lubanga, Ntaganda’s former boss, became the first person to be convicted by the ICC in March, there has been mounting pressure for the arrest for his former deputy. The ICC’s prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo again urged Ntaganda’s arrest. In a letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a coalition of 142 Congolese and international human rights organizations called on the U.S to provide urgent diplomatic leadership supporting the governments of Congo and Rwanda in the arrest of Ntaganda. Identical letters were sent to Secretary Clinton’s diplomatic counterparts in Europe, urging those countries to also pressure the Congolese government to take steps toward ending impunity and bringing Ntaganda to justice.
There is a consensus that Ntaganda should be arrested but the location of his trial remains contentious. Although Kabila has indicated that he would like Ntaganda to face a military tribunal in Congo, it is crucial that Ntaganda is handed over to the ICC to face justice. The government referred the crimes committed in Congo to the ICC in 2004 and as state party to the ICC treaty, Congolese authorities are legally required to cooperate with the court and follow its procedure, including enforcing the ICC arrest warrant for Ntaganda. Should the Congolese government try Ntaganda in Congo, it would need to file a legal submission to the ICC judges challenging the admissibility of the case and demonstrating that the Congolese justice system is genuinely willing and able to prosecute such a high profile case in a fair and credible proceedings for the same crimes. This is unlikely at this stage because years of conflict has weakened the Congolese justice system.
The DRC’s military courts have often failed to meet the minimum international standards for a fair trial, especially as far as competence, independence and impartiality are concerned, and are prone to political manipulation. In numerous cases where suspects were convicted they have escaped from prison.
In the aftermath of botched presidential elections, Kabila is facing a challenge to consolidate his legitimacy in the eyes of the international community but also keep the fragile balance of power in the east. By sending Ntaganda to The Hague, Kabila would be reassuring both citizens and international community that he is committed to ending impunity.
Ntaganda’s arrest is by no means a silver bullet that will bring long-term stability and peace. It is however, a step in the right direction in curbing the culture of impunity, particularly among high ranking officers within the Congolese army who have committed gross human rights violations. With the international community and the DRC on the same side, “The Terminator’s” days are truly numbered.