The prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has sought a 30-year prison sentence for Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel leader who was convicted on 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“The sentence of 30 years is proportionate to the extreme gravity of these 18 crimes,” said prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson at the sentencing hearing on Friday. She noted that Ntaganda’s crimes affected thousands of victims, who suffered “extensive and irreversible damage” to their lives and property.
Samson said that the sentence of 30 years would reflect the degree of Ntaganda’s culpability as a direct perpetrator of murder and persecution; and as an indirect perpetrator of several other crimes. According to the prosecution, many of Ntaganda’s crimes on their own merit a sentence of 30 years.
Article 77(a) of the court’s statute provides that a convicted person may be imprisoned for a period not exceeding 30 years. Article 77(b) states that a term of life imprisonment may be imposed when justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person.
Defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon said that, in spite of the gravity of the crimes, powerful mitigating circumstances indicated that a sentence below 30 years would be appropriate. He said although Ntaganda was convicted of many crimes of high gravity, he had a low degree of participation in the crimes.
According to the defense lawyer, in one of the two attacks over which Ntaganda was convicted, he had no advance knowledge that soldiers in the militia he commanded were going to launch an attack, so he could not have ordered the commission of any crimes. Bourgon asked judges to hand Ntaganda a sentence that reflects only the crimes he was aware of and not those he “should have known” about.
On July 8, 2019, judges found Ntaganda guilty of crimes committed in eastern Congo’s Ituri province during 2002 and 2003, while he served as deputy chief of staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) militia, the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). The crimes include sexual slavery and rape, including of child soldiers who served within the FPLC; as well as murder; attacking civilians; conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years into an armed group and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
Samson said Ntaganda intentionally directed attacks on civilians from the Lendu and Ngiti ethnic groups, using military tactics he devised. “He stands convicted of rape and sexual slavery, including of girls as young as 11,” she said. “He stands convicted of murder and attempted murder, of looting and destroying their property.”
Samson said girls enlisted and conscripted in UPC/FPLC were particularly vulnerable, as they were “regularly raped and subjected to sexual violence [and] commanders were allowed to take girls whenever they wanted.”
She added that the rapes committed by the FPLC soldiers against civilians were particularly violent and that, as judges determined in the judgement, they were intended by the UPC to have “consequences that would go beyond the sexual violence itself,” notably to “destroy Lendu locations under assault.” The rapes, she said, led to repeated trauma, with some of the girls and women carrying emotional trauma for the rest of their lives.
The prosecution said Ntaganda directed troops to loot and kill, and did not punish rape, murder, or other crimes committed by his fighters. Samson explained, “He [Ntaganda] is an experienced and well-trained commander taught by Ugandan and Rwandan military experts. He knew the laws of war, he knew prohibitions on attacking civilians, he understood the importance of discipline but he never intended to punish anyone for attacks on Lendus.”
Ntaganda bore responsibility for the conduct of his soldiers because he trained them, was the mastermind behind operations to attacks several villages in Ituri, and his criminal behavior served a model to his troops, said the prosecution.
Victims’ lawyer Sarah Pellet asked judges to hand Ntaganda a harsh sentence to deter the recruitment and enlistment of children below 15. According to her, some of the children who took part in hostilities were eight and nine years. She said the practice has been widespread in Congo, and even today families in Ituri fear that their children will be recruited in militia that are active in the region.
“Ntaganda had child soldiers in his escort. He himself has raped members of his own escort and did not prevent commanders and troops in FPLC from doing the same,” she said.
Pellet asked judges to hand Ntaganda 18 years for conscripting children, 18 years for enlisting children, 20 years for involving children in armed conflict, 20 years for rape, and 30 years for sexual slavery of child soldiers.
Another lawyer for victims, Dmitri Suprun, asked judges to hand Ntaganda a minimum of 20 years for each individual crime convicted. He suggested that for murder and sexual slavery, the sentence should be 30 years.
Ntaganda also addressed the court in an unsworn statement. He maintained that his testimony in his own defense was truthful. “It is very much a shame that you did not find my testimony credible, which led to the decision that you handed down,” he said. He added that he had accordingly instructed his lawyers to appeal the guilty verdict. Ntaganda’s lawyers filed the notice to appeal earlier this month.
Ntaganda’s sentencing hearing at the ICC began earlier this week and heard testimony from defense witnesses called to provide mitigating evidence for Ntaganda on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Following the end of the sentencing hearing, parties and participants in the case will file written submissions by September 30. Judges will in due course announce the date for delivery of the sentence.