Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton,

We are writing to request that the United States government use all means at its disposal, including a public statement, to encourage the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to arrest Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the war crime of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 as soldiers and of using them in hostilities between 2002-2003 in the Ituri district of eastern Congo.

We wish to commend the recent statement made by Ambassador Susan Rice before the United Nations Security Council stressing the importance of accountability to end impunity for the worst international crimes.  In this context, Ambassador Rice stated that "the ICC looks to become an important and credible instrument for trying to hold accountable the senior leadership responsible for atrocities committed in Congo, Uganda, and Darfur."  Ambassador Rice rightly called on all parties and all governments to cooperate with international investigations to end impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As a party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, the Congolese government has a legal obligation to assist the court in arresting persons for whom arrest warrants have been issued, such as Ntaganda.  In May 2007, Congo recognized that responsibility by asking the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) for assistance in arresting Ntaganda but has since done nothing further to arrest him.

As you know, in early January 2009, Ntaganda claimed that he was taking over leadership of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) from its former head Laurent Nkunda, and on January 16, he declared that instead of waging war on the Congolese national army, he would join its troops in fighting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan armed group some of whose leaders participated in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

On January 16, Ntaganda was in Goma for a joint press conference alongside the Congolese Minister of the Interior and Security, Célestin Mbuyu Kabangu; the Inspector General of the Police, General John Numbi; Rwanda's Chief of Defence Staff, General James Kabarebe; and other senior Congolese military officers.  Indeed, the Congolese government has given Ntaganda a senior position in the integration process of CNDP troops into the Congolese army and is considering appointing him to a top position in the joint Rwandan-Congolese military operations in eastern Congo.

Any expectation that remaining silent on Congo's obligation to arrest Ntaganda and to surrender him to the ICC will facilitate an end to the conflict in the Kivus is illusory given the seriousness of the allegations against him of horrific abuses against civilians.  In addition to the war crimes that form the basis for the ICC arrest warrant against him, charges against Ntaganda include the following:

  • On November 4 and 5, 2008, CNDP troops under Ntaganda's command killed an estimated 150 people in the town of Kiwanja, one of the worst massacres in North Kivu in the past two years;
  • As chief of military operations of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), Ntaganda was in command of combatants who arrested, tortured, or killed hundreds of civilians of Lendu and Ngiti ethnicity between August 2002 and March 2003;
  • In November 2002, Ntaganda led troops who slaughtered at least 800 civilians, including the first priest killed in the Ituri conflict, Abbe Boniface Bwanalonga, on ethnic grounds at Mongbwalu;
  • In November 2005, Ntaganda was placed on a UN sanctions list for having violated the arms embargo. He remains on the list; and
  • According to UN peacekeepers, troops under Ntaganda's command were responsible for killing a Kenyan UN peacekeeper in January 2004 and for kidnapping a Moroccan peacekeeper later that year.

Efforts by the Congolese authorities to legitimize Ntaganda as a "partner for peace" reinforce the perception that those who commit heinous crimes against civilians in Congo will be rewarded rather than punished.  Such practices feed the vicious culture of impunity that has ravaged Congo to date and cause yet further harm to victims who have already suffered so much.

It is also essential for the Obama administration to call on the Congolese authorities to arrest Bosco Ntaganda for reasons that extend beyond the important objective of breaking the cycle of impunity in Congo.  We note that the US government has invoked the principle of bringing to justice "those responsible for atrocities and ending the climate of impunity" in its laudable opposition to efforts to defer the ICC's investigation in Darfur. To preserve the credibility of the US government's opposition to efforts to subvert accountability, the principle should be consistently applied in other contexts. Urging the Congolese authorities to arrest Ntaganda is an important opportunity for the Obama administration to further demonstrate its commitment to bringing to justice the perpetrators of the worst crimes known to humankind. 

Yours sincerely,

Georgette Gagnon                                                           Richard Dicker
Executive Director                                                          Director
Africa Division                                                                 International Justice Program

Cc: Susan E. Rice, United States Ambassador to the United Nations