On the second day of his testimony at the International Criminal Court (ICC), former Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda told judges that he left the Rwandan army to join an armed insurrection in the Democratic Republic of Congo because he wanted to contribute to the overthrow of a dictatorship in that country.
Ntaganda said his motivation to join the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) grew after Congolese citizens of the Tutsi ethnic group, to which he belongs, were targeted for killing and displacement. He recounted his days as a military instructor with the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) rebels, his service with Rwanda’s national army once the RPA took control of Kigali, and how he later joined the AFDL and helped overthrew then Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
The former rebel commander testified on Thursday that when the RPA took power in Rwanda, the deposed army and its allied militia known as Interahamwe, who had perpetuated the Rwandan genocide, fled to Congo. In that country, they participated in a campaign supported by Mobutu’s government to kill Tutsis. He said the campaign forced thousands of Tutsis to flee Congo, mostly for Rwanda and Uganda, with those unable to escape getting “exterminated” primarily by former soldiers of the deposed Rwandan regime.
“I really wanted to join this rebel movement and drive out this dictator … They wanted to drive Tutsis out of Kivu and [other] people wanted to take over that part of the country,” said Ntaganda.
“I was not at peace. When I was in Rwanda I wanted the Congo to be liberated. That’s why when I was part of AFDL I didn’t think of a salary. My objective was to liberate the country,” he added. Ntaganda explained that overthrowing Mobutu would enable refugees to resettle in their homes and live in peace, with children able to go to school and those in need of medical care able to access hospitals.
He stated that, not long after the AFDL captured power in Congo, the new government fell out with its Rwandan and Ugandan backers, whereupon it issued a communique that all Tutsis and individuals who resembled Tutsis had to be killed. “They were referred to as vermin. And these are people we had helped, but they turned around and were against us,” he said.
After this fallout, Ntaganda retreated with the Ugandan and Rwandan armies towards eastern Congo and started a campaign to overthrow the new government in Congo that they had helped to bring to power.
Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the ICC, which include murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, and using child soldiers. The crimes were allegedly committed during 2002 and 2003 in towns including Kobu and Mongbwalu while he served as the deputy chief of staff of the Union of Congolese Patriots. At the time, the group was one of numerous militia active in the ethnic conflict in Ituri district.
At the start of his testimony yesterday, Ntaganda spoke about his birth in Rwanda, education in Congo, and the motivation for joining the RPA. Today, he defended his record as a disciplined soldier and commander, and professed innocence of the charges against him: “I, Ntaganda, I am not guilty of anything. I do not have anything to be guilty about. I am not a criminal, I am a revolutionary.”
His testimony continues on Friday.