On September 3, during the delivery of opening statements in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, former Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda addressed the court. The prosecution alleges that Ntaganda committed the crimes in 2002 and 2003 while he served as deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the armed militia of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) political group. Presiding Judge Robert Fremr informed Ntaganda that he was presenting his unsworn statement in accordance with Article 67(1)(h) of the court’s Rome Statute. The unsworn statement would not be part of evidence, which is why Ntaganda was not required to take an oath. Below is Ntaganda’s address.
Thank you, Mr. President, your Honors. This is the first time I’m taking the floor after having arrived here at The Hague after having handed myself over to the US embassy in Kigali in 2013. I am quite confident, I understand the charges against me and I know that the allegations against me, as reported in the press, are not beneficial to me.
I have been described as The Terminator, as an infamous killer, but that is not me. I had that reputation not because I did any such thing, but it was because of the hatred against Rwandans. Today I am being described as a Rwandan. [Editor’s note: Ntaganda was born in Rwanda but he later acquired Congolese citizenship.] I am not the Bosco Ntaganda depicted to you by the Prosecutor yesterday. I acknowledge that I was at the front in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo]. I am not ashamed to tell you that I fought in many war fronts in Congo in 2002 and 2003 and, more specifically, in Ituri.
As those who were in Ituri are aware, the ethnic conflict in Ituri started between 1998 and 1999 and initiated by the authorities of Kinshasa on 4 August 1998. There was an announcement to kill all the Tutsis or those who looked like them. So everything came from there. It is for this reason that I joined the UPC whose objective was to restore security and protect civilians. I am a soldier and I was trained by Ugandan and Rwandan military experts. I, myself, have trained a large number of soldiers. I am a seasoned instructor. I have always respected military tactics and strategies and I have always considered discipline as the foundation of my service. That is why I was appointed general in the Congolese army while I was still a young man, and it is also the reason why I was appointed as the deputy chief of staff of the FPLC.
I have been referred to as a rebel revolutionary. And I know that since 1990 and in 1994 I was fighting and I was one of those who put an end to the Rwandan genocide. Between 2002 and 2003 I joined the UPC. There was another objective for which I was fighting and that is the peaceful return of the Congolese refugees who had been chased out of their country. As an officer, I have always fought with people in uniform. I have never attacked civilians. On the other hand, your Honors, I have always protected them.
At the time of the commencement of my trial, I would like you to make a distinction between a revolutionary rebel and a criminal. And I am not a criminal. The two terms should not be confused, your Honors. Furthermore, I would like to appeal to you to be careful when you will be assessing the evidence of the prosecution witnesses in this case. And I am saying this because of several reasons. There are few people who would like to be associated with a revolutionary rebel accused of crimes such as those alleged against me. This is why the people accusing me have always described me as such, but this cannot lead to the ascertainment of the truth.
Even before the beginning of my trial there have been allegations that I have tried to interfere in Prosecution evidence by attempting to corruptly influence witnesses, but I have never done such a thing. This is why I asked my Defense team to do everything possible to explain the truth to you.
I thank you for having granted authorization to my children to come and visit me after two years without my having met with them. You have also allowed my wife to visit me and I am happy about that. And I hope that they will have the opportunities to come and see me again before the beginning of my trial.
To conclude, I would like to address myself to all the victims of the Ituri conflict since 1998 and a conflict that has lasted until today. In 1998 and 1999 there was a conflict between the Lendus and the Hemas. At that time I was not even in Ituri and I did not know that region. Between 2000 and 2001, the Ugandan soldiers and the UPC fought against each other. Between 2002 and 2003 the APC [Armeé Populaire Congolaise, or Congolese Popular Army – a rebel group] was fighting against the UPC. And in March, the Ugandans and the APC chased out the UPC. During all those conflicts, during all those battles, many of my Congolese compatriots suffered. I empathized with them. My objective was to restore peace without ethnic original discrimination. I must stress that when UPC was in control of Ituri there was security there.
Lastly, your Honors, I have asked my Defense team to do everything within their powers to make it possible for you to understand the background of the conflict that took place in Ituri between 2002 and 2003 and to fully explain to you what I did in my capacity as deputy chief of staff of the FPLC, and you will be able to understand what I did, the activities that I carried out in an impartial manner.
I thank you for having given me the opportunity to address the Court and thank you for your kind attention.
*This transcript was initially published by the ICC here alongside other proceedings at the opening statements hearing.