Ntaganda’s surrender: an opportunity for the ICC to deliver justice to victims in DRC
The initial appearance of the former Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda before the International Criminal Court tomorrow, almost seven years after the Court issued its first arrest warrant against him, opens a significant opportunity in the pursuit of accountability and justice for many victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ntaganda, who has been the subject of two ICC arrest warrants since 2006, surrendered voluntarily to the United States embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, last week and asked to be transferred to the Court.
“Bosco Ntaganda’s transfer to the ICC sends a strong message that the space for impunity is narrowing and constitutes a promising development for victims in Ituri and North Kivu,” said Dadimos Haile, REDRESS’ Interim Director. “But this is only a small step in the long process to deliver effective justice and reparation for the many victims of the atrocities in the DRC. Hopes are high among victims and affected communities in the region and Ntaganda’s transfer, while to be welcomed, must not be the tree hiding the forest,” added Haile.
In 2006, the ICC issued its first arrest warrant against him for the war crime of recruiting and using child soldiers allegedly committed during the Ituri conflict from 2002 to 2003 when he was Deputy Chief of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
In 2012, a second arrest warrant was issued, for the same period, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including attacks against a civilian population, pillaging, rape and sexual slavery.
Since 2003, Ntaganda has also reportedly been involved in scores of similar crimes when commanding troops of another armed group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) in eastern DRC. Following a peace agreement in 2009, most of CNDP members under his leadership were integrated into the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and Ntaganda was promoted to the rank of general. In April of last year, he deserted together with ex-CNDP soldiers leading to the creation of a new armed group, the M23, which is allegedly responsible for serious crimes in North Kivu.
The latest ICC arrest warrant against Ntaganda is linked to events which took place while he was allied with Thomas Lubanga, who was convicted last year of the war crime of recruiting and using child soldiers. Ntaganda’s transfer to the ICC creates high expectations among victims who were unable to participate in the proceedings against Lubanga due to the narrowness of the charges. However, to date, the charges against Ntaganda only focus on crimes allegedly committed in Ituri from 2002 to 2003.
“REDRESS urges the Prosecutor to investigate all the crimes allegedly committed by armed groups linked to Ntaganda, in particular, the CNDP and the M23, as well as his role within the FARDC, and if there is sufficient evidence, the Prosecutor needs to consider whether and how to bring additional charges,” said Haile. “The ICC cannot miss this opportunity to ensure that the full scale of the crimes and victimisation is represented.”
However, the problem of impunity in the DRC does not end with Ntaganda’s transfer to the ICC. The primary responsibility of bringing suspected perpetrators of international crimes to justice and to ensure victims obtain reparation remains with the Congolese authorities.
The Congolese authorities must arrest and surrender Sylvestre Mudacumura, alleged supreme commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who is also under an ICC arrest warrant for war crimes. The Congolese Government should also undertake the much needed reforms of the security forces and the justice system to tackle impunity.
“Ntaganda’s transfer to the ICC does not relieve the Congolese government of its responsibility to investigate, prosecute and prevent atrocities and provide reparation to victims,” said Haile. During tomorrow’s hearing, Ntaganda will be informed of the charges against him and the judges will set a date for a confirmation of charges hearing to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to send the case to trial.
Further information from:
Gaelle Carayon, ICC Outreach and Advocacy Officer, on [email protected] or +44 (0) 20 7793 1777.
Note to editors:
REDRESS was founded by a British torture survivor in 1992. Since then, it has consistently fought for the rights of torture survivors and their families in the UK and abroad. REDRESS, along with others, played a role in ensuring that key provisions for victims were incorporated into the Rome Statute which established the ICC.
We are also the informal coordinator of the Victims’ Rights Working Group (VRWG), a network of 400 national and international organisations and experts that advocates on victim’s issues before the ICC. More information about the VRWG is available. Click here.