In a surprising turn of events, Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda, a Rwandan-born Congolese warlord wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) surrendered himself at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda on Monday and asked to be transferred to the ICC. While there is speculation that the wanted warlord feared for his life, the exact reasons for this surprising turn of events remain a mystery, as do the long term implications of this for international justice.
The ICC issued a warrant for Ntaganda’s arrest in 2006 and a second one in 2012 for the crimes he committed in Eastern Congo’s mineral rich Ituri region from 2002-2003. Ntaganda is charged with allegedly committing 7 counts of war crimes, including enlistment of children under the age of 15, murder, attacks against the civilian population, and rape and sexual slavery, as well as 3 counts of crimes against humanity.
Ntaganda is the first wanted international war criminal to voluntarily surrender and request to be handed over to the ICC. While the exact reason of his surrender is still unknown, many speculate it is due to the loss of Rwandan financial and logistical backing, as well as the result of infighting between M23 factions that further isolated Ntaganda and his allies. Following a key battle between rival M23 factions last weekend, Ntaganda and his fighters fled to neighboring Rwanda.” My best guess is that his options came down to go to The Hague or be killed,” said Tony Gambino, the former director of USAID in Congo.
As it stands, Ntaganda remains at the US Embassy in Kigali awaiting extradition to the ICC. While Washington broadly supports the ICC, neither the United States nor Rwanda are signatories to the Rome Statute that established the court and thus do not have a legal obligation to extradite Ntaganda to the Hague.
However, just this morning, Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, stated that the United States is working to transfer Ntaganda to the ICC, further stating, “We are asking for the full and complete cooperation of the Rwandan government, the ICC authorities and the Dutch government to make this happen as quickly as possible.”
Ntaganda’s surrender was welcomed by the ICC, who stated “This is great news for the people of the DR Congo who had to suffer from the crimes of an ICC fugitive for too long,” but does not mean an end for hostilities in Eastern Congo. The root causes of conflict in Eastern Congo—poor governance, interference from neighboring countries, and power struggles between rebel groups —must be addressed and prioritized in order for sustainable peace to be acheived.
Addressing these issues will be the job of former Irish President Mary Robinson whose appointment as UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa is a bit of promising news overshadowed by the Ntaganda surrender. Inevitably, justice and accountability will need to be addressed and the Ntaganda news appears to be a step in the right direction. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”