Ten months after he surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda today appeared before the court for hearings to decide whether charges against him should go to trial.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Mr. Ntaganda and the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) militia in which he was a commander persecuted civilians, committed murder, rape, sexual enslavement, and pillaging.
“The notorious commander known as ‘The Terminator’ is here before you because of his role in pursuing a campaign of terror against women and children” and failing to stop or punish his soldiers who committed crimes, she said.
However, Mr. Ntaganda’s lawyer Marc Desalliers accused prosecutors of late disclosure of evidence to the defense, failure to present a focused case, and lacking sufficient evidence to take the case to trial.
He said nine years after the prosecution started investigations, when Mr. Ntaganda surrendered to court, Ms. Bensouda asked for a nine months delay before confirmation hearings “because they don’t have evidence against Ntaganda.”
Mr. Desalliers said when the accused first appeared before the court last March, he faced seven war crimes and three crimes against humanity. A month before the confirmation of charges hearings, the prosecutor increased the number of charges from 10 to 18 and the modes of liability from one to seven. This, the defense lawyer argued, deprived the accused of his right to be informed promptly of the nature of charges against him.
While the prosecution has previously accused Mr. Ntaganda of being a co-perpetrator, the modes of liability now include the responsibility of commander. It is argued that he knew or should have known that his forces were committing or about to commit crimes but did not prevent or repress their commission.
Prior to his surrender in Kigali, Rwanda, last March, Mr. Ntaganda had evaded the court that issued the first arrest warrant against him in 2006. He lived in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, alternating between commanding government forces and leading militias fighting the government.
Mr. Ntaganda faces 13 counts of war crimes, including murder and attempted murder of civilians, attacks against a civilian population, rape of civilians, rape of child soldiers, sexual slavery of civilians, sexual slavery of child soldiers, pillaging and displacement of civilians. Others include attacks against protected objects, destruction of property, and conscription, enlistment, and use of children under the age of 15 in hostilities.
Furthermore, he faces five counts of crimes against humanity: murder and attempted murder of civilians, rape of civilians, sexual slavery of civilians, persecution on ethnic grounds, and forcible transfer of population.
All crimes were allegedly committed in Congo’s Ituri province between September 2002 and September 2003. Prosecutors say 740 individuals were killed in the campaigns by Mr. Ntaganda’s group.
Prosecutors claim Mr. Ntaganda was the deputy chief of general staff of the FPLC, the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots, a group led by Thomas Lubanga, who was in July 2012 sentenced by the ICC to 14 years in jail over the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
According to the prosecutor, the groups led by Mr. Lubanga and Mr. Ntaganda were made up primarily of members of the Hema ethnic group and aimed to drive out non-Hema population, notably the Lendu and Ngiti, from several areas of Ituri.
“Ntaganda enlisted and conscripted for the army to maintain control of territory and acquire new ground,” said Ms. Bensouda. She said the accused played a key role in planning attacks on civilians, securing weapons, recruiting, training and deploying troops.
Defense lawyer Desalliers accused the prosecution of being “unable to set out clear, straightforward charges” and dispelled Ms. Bensouda’s claims that the Ituri conflict was founded on a group of Hema people who wanted to push out other ethnic groups. He said several commanders in the FPLC were non-Hema, pointing to Mr. Ntaganda who is a Tutsi not a Hema.
The defense lawyer said evidence would show that events that formed the basis of charges against Mr. Ntaganda were not attacks against civilian populations. Mr. Desalliers said Mr. Ntaganda chose to appear before the ICC because he was confident judges would see beyond “the caricature the prosecution has created” which depicted him as ‘The Terminator.’
Confirmation of charges hearings continue tomorrow morning.