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Here’s What Ntaganda Told ICC Judges on the Last Day of His Trial

Bosco Ntaganda, the former rebel leader facing war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC), made a statement at the closing hearing in his trial on August 30, 2018. Ntaganda denies all charges, which prosecutors say stemmed from his conduct and that of troops during ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri province in 2002 and 2003. At the time, Ntaganda was a senior commander in the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the armed wing of a rebel movement known as the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). Below is the transcript of Ntaganda’s statement.

Your Honors, this is the third opportunity that I’ve had to speak to you directly and I am very grateful for this opportunity. I will be speaking in Kinyarwanda for reasons of [court] interpretation but I could just as easily have spoken in Swahili as I did when I gave my testimony.

The first opportunity that I had to address the bench was at the beginning of the trial and at that time you knew me only barely. What I told you on that day I maintain; I stand by what I said. I am a revolutionary but I am not a criminal. The second time that I spoke to the bench was during my testimony which lasted several weeks. When I began my testimony, you knew me somewhat more but unfortunately you had a rather negative impression of me. That was due to the unfounded allegations that the prosecutor made against me and also on the basis of the telephone conversations that I had with a number of people.

Of course, that’s not the only one but certainly it was one of the main reasons for my desire to testify before the chamber so that you could hear me directly, ask me questions directly, and come to know me better.

My testimony before this chamber has been an enriching experience that I will never forget. Obviously, it was not an easy thing but I truly needed to tell you my story, speak publicly about my military career. I became a soldier at 18 [years] and I continued my career until I was appointed acting chief of general staff late in 2003. Today, at the end of this long trial and after giving my testimony over several weeks, the situation is different. I hope that you now know me better and you now realize that the Terminator described by the prosecutor is not me.

It has been exactly five years, five months, and seven days since the time I came forward and appeared before the court to respond to the accusations against me. Of course, the decision I made to go to the American embassy [in Kigali, Rwanda] and then be transferred to The Hague changed my life profoundly. Only a few years before that day I was a general in the Congolese national army and as such I worked even with MONUC [the former United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] officials during operations led against the FDLR [the Congo-based rebel group, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] in North Kivu and South Kivu. But I truly felt the need to surrender voluntarily and face the charges against me. Even though I was not familiar with all the details of these charges, setting the record straight publicly and helping to establish the truth were fundamental tasks for me.

In 2013, when I surrendered voluntarily, I was convinced and I am still convinced today that I had no reason to reproach myself. That is another one of the reasons why it was important for me to be on trial before this court publicly so that the truth should emerge and so that people would understand me and know me and realize who the real Bosco Ntaganda was. Your Honors, by coming before the court voluntarily I knew it would be a great tribulation. I am a man and a father. I realize that this time spent in detention has been a difficult tribulation because I am being detained far away from my family. Indeed, I don’t even know some of my seven children and some of them do not even know their father even though they are growing up.

Listening to all these allegations against me from the prosecution and hearing these allegations day in, day out, that has not been easy but I have understood that this is part of the judicial process and I am at peace with myself because I know that these allegations are nothing more than but lies. I will not hurt back [sic] to the restrictions placed on my contacts with family members for nearly three years owing to allegations from the prosecutor even though such allegations are not to be found in the document containing the charges. All the same I will say that I am extremely grateful that my communications with my family and my friends have been restored ever since the end of the case.

And I have understood, Your Honors, that you’re my last recourse. I am confident that you will be in a position to review the testimony and the documents relied upon and you will be able to distinguish between lies and truths. All the places I had gone to over the years since my earliest years I have always been a disciplined person and thanks to that discipline I became a general at a very young age. Even now at the [ICC] detention unit my fellow detained persons have chosen me several times to represent them because of my discipline which I have always shown.

When I was taught military leadership, I learned that a good leader sets an example. That lesson has shaped the person that I am today. I have done my best to pass on this message and these values to those under my command so that these men would become exemplary military leaders who would respect the population and protect their property.

Your Honors, I shall refrain from commenting on the conduct of my trial as such but I would nonetheless like to make some observations relating to my own testimony. I took the decision to testify on my own volition and without coercion. Over a period of months, I answered questions that were put to me by you the judges, the prosecutors, the victims’ representatives and by my own counsel. I provided information on every subject. I never made any attempt to shirk my responsibilities and although I was a general staff officer I did not hesitate to acknowledge my responsibility as commander of certain operations such as the one in Mongbwalu.

I described the manner in which I arrived in Bunia, a region that I did not even know and I also explained how I came to be a member of the FPLC. I elaborated on my role as the deputy chief of staff in charge of operations and organization as well as on my relationships with my superiors [Floribert] Kisembo and [Thomas] Lubanga. I equally made it clear that I was not a politician.

In answer to every question put to me I systematically tried to provide maximum information except of course in the cases of documents or events of which I had no knowledge at the time.

I testified a great length on the ideology that we adopted and did our utmost to instill in the members of the FPLC. That is because we wanted to take positive actions that would distinguish us from other groups. In that regard, everything that I said and elaborated upon relating to the FPLC operations can be found in my logbooks. Although the messages in my logbooks constitute only a part of what I did to accomplish the missions assigned to me by my superiors and to enforce discipline among the members of the FPLC, I reiterate that those messages are representative of the ideology and sense of discipline with which I was imbued during that period.

The fact of the matter is that I am immensely proud of what we were able to achieve [in] such a short time and with limited resources. We successfully set up a well-structured and disciplined group with the objective of protecting the civilian population irrespective of ethnic or regional origin. My log books clearly show that I ordered all elements [FPLC fighters] suspected of having committed offences to be remanded in custody pending investigations so as to prevent those elements from tarnishing the ideology of the FPLC. For example, between 2002 and 2003 and with the agreement of my superiors, I never hesitated in meting out punishment against both soldiers and senior officers alike who were found guilty of committing offences. Such actions were aimed at protecting the population and their property. Your Honors, that was the ideology of the UPC and the FPLC.

Your Honors, in line with the example set by the UPC leadership, the FPLC had as its objective to protect all members of the population. The operations of the FPLC were defensive in strategy. The national secretaries and members of the UPC were drawn from various ethnic groups including the Lendu. Similarly, the commanders and soldiers of the FPLC came from different ethnic groups. I was not aware of their ethnic origins because they were not required to disclose their ethnicity. Contrary to the submissions of the prosecutor, the FPLC was not made up of members of a single ethnic group.

Your Honors, we ensured protection for the Lendu civilians who had sought refuge with us in Mandro as a result of the threats posed by Lendu combatants because they had refused to take part in attacks against the Hema. This is a telling example of our policy to protect all members of the population without discrimination. Even to this day, the people that we protected are still living in the same locality.

Your Honors, prior to the commencement of my trial I had hoped that the preliminary hearings would take place in our home territory of Ituri where I am accused of having perpetrated crimes by the prosecutor. I believe you would have benefitted from seeing with your own eyes the locations of the events from which the prosecutor’s charges were drawn. Nonetheless, even though my wish did not materialize, I have every confidence that you can fully understand the situation prevailing at the time of the events, make your determinations as to what actually happened, and make the distinction between the charges and reality.

Honorable judges, Ituri has suffered a great deal and many of its inhabitants from all ethnic groups have been subjected to severe harm as a result of the ethnic conflict that wreaked havoc in that territory from 1999. As I have already mentioned earlier, that ethnic conflict was ignited by politicians who plunged Congo into a bloodbath with their incendiary statements such as “Kill all the Tutsi and those who look like them” in a bid to gratify their thirst for power.

I am a Congolese national whose objective has always been to make it possible for all Congolese to live in peace and harmony irrespective of their ethnicity. As such, and having observed the situation from the inside, I feel great compassion as a result of all the suffering and harm visited upon the civilian population of all the ethnic groups. The objective of the UPC was to resolve the problems plaguing Congo and to protect the civilian population by putting an end to all acts of ethnically motivated violence.

In spite of the accusations that have been made against me, I can take comfort in the knowledge that the UPC, the FPLC and myself made every effort possible to achieve that goal. Today, the UPC is a legally constituted political party established in the political landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The party continues to advocate the same values and ideology as the UPC of 2002 and 2003. It has representatives in the national assembly and in other institutions of the country. It may be cold comfort in the context of the unrest that continues to afflict the DRC but I venture to suggest that the prevailing situation also is quite revealing of the essence and objective of the UPC in its time.

I thank you very much.