(Goma) –President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo should immediately order the arrest of Gen. Bosco Ntaganda and promptly transfer him to The Hague for a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said today. Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. Human Rights Watch released a video with witness accounts of Ntaganda’s alleged crimes.
In a public statement in eastern Congo on April 11, 2012, Kabila indicated he was considering Ntaganda’s arrest. Kabila’s emergency visit to the region followed renewed insecurity in North and South Kivu after army soldiers loyal to Ntaganda attempted to mutiny. The statement signified an important change in the Congolese government’s policy toward Ntaganda, who was previously touted as needed for the country’s peace process.
“President Kabila has put Ntaganda’s arrest firmly on the agenda, which is a major step forward for justice in Congo,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kabila’s words should promptly result in a lawfully conducted arrest that will ensure Ntaganda goes straight to The Hague and civilians aren’t harmed.”
The ICC issued a sealed arrest warrant for Ntaganda in 2006 on charges of war crimes for recruiting and using child soldiers in active combat in 2002-2003 in the northeastern district of Ituri. At the time he was chief of military operations for the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a Congolese militia group. The arrest warrant was unsealed in April 2008.
Despite the ICC warrant, Ntaganda was allowed to become part of the Congolese army and promoted to the rank of general in 2009. He moved about freely in eastern Congo in full view of Congolese government officials, United Nations peacekeepers, and foreign diplomats. The Congolese government stated that Ntaganda was an important partner for peace and contended that arresting him would undermine the peace process. Congolese civil society organizations repeatedly denounced the promotion and called for Ntaganda’s arrest.
Over the past decade, Human Rights Watch has frequently documented Ntaganda’s continuing role in horrific abuses including ethnic massacres, killings, rape, torture, and recruitment of child soldiers. The government’s policy of rewarding commanders implicated in abuses, such as Ntaganda, with high-ranking army positions shows cruel disregard for the victims of their atrocities, Human Rights Watch said.
“Ntaganda has boldly walked around the restaurants and tennis courts of Goma flaunting his impunity like a medal of honor while engaging in ruthless human rights abuses,” Van Woudenberg said. “The UN and others should offer help to ensure his long overdue and lawful arrest and bring some relief to his many victims.”
In March, the ICC found Ntaganda’s co-accused, Thomas Lubanga, guilty of the war crime of recruiting and using child soldiers in the court’s first case. Following the verdict, the ICC prosecutor announced that he will pursue additional charges of rape and murder against Ntaganda in connection with his activities in Ituri.
The ICC verdict against Lubanga highlighted Ntaganda’s continued impunity and increased pressure for his arrest, Human Rights Watch said. Fearful that action against him was imminent, Ntaganda encouraged his troops to defect from the ranks of the Congolese army. The move backfired when only a few hundred troops rallied to his support, many of whom rejoined the army’s ranks or were arrested days later.
In his speech in Goma, Kabila denounced the defections and the indiscipline in the army, and stated that, “it gives us reason to arrest any officer, beginning with Bosco Ntaganda.”
Kabila also suggested that Ntaganda could stand trial in Congo, rather than being transferred to the ICC after arrest.“We don’t need to arrest Bosco and to bring him to the ICC,” Kabila said. “We ourselves can arrest him and we have more than a hundred reasons to do so and to try him here, and if that’s not possible, elsewhere, possibly in Kinshasa [the capital], or elsewhere. It is not reasons that we lack.”
The government referred the situation in Congo to the ICC in 2004, however. As a state party to the ICC treaty, Congo is legally required to cooperate with the court and follow its procedures, including enforcing the ICC arrest warrant for Ntaganda.
Should the Congolese government want to try Ntaganda in Congo, it would need to file a legal submission to the ICC judges challenging the admissibility of the case and demonstrating that the Congolese justice system is genuinely willing and able to prosecute Ntaganda in fair and credible proceedings for the same crimes. The final decision rests with the ICC judges whether a national trial in Congo could trump its own proceedings.
Congo’s justice system has proven weak at holding those responsible for mass violence to account, Human Rights Watch said. Very few top-ranking officers or armed group leaders have been held to account for war crimes or crimes against humanity despite the numerous serious crimes committed during Congo’s recent armed conflicts. Military courts have been starved of resources, often plagued with political interference and many procedures fall short of respecting international standards for a fair trial. A number of those who have been convicted have been able to escape from prison.
“Ntaganda has a lot to answer for, but now is not the time to backpedal on Congo’s legal commitments to the ICC,” Van Woudenberg said. “Without substantial investment and legal reforms, Congo’s justice system will be unable to fairly try the international crimes for which Ntaganda has been charged. When arrested he should be transferred to The Hague without delay so his victims can have their day in court.”
Bosco Ntaganda: A History of Human Rights Abuses
Bosco Ntaganda is a notorious general in the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is wanted on an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. Ntaganda, known as “the Terminator,” and troops under his command have committed heinous abuses since at least 2002 in the Ituri district of northeastern Congo and in North and South Kivu provinces of eastern Congo, including ethnic massacres, killings, sexual violence, torture, and the recruitment of child soldiers.
Ntaganda is known among his troops as a “warrior” who leads from the front, commanding and directly participating in military operations. In the words of a child soldier who fought with Ntaganda and later testified against him at the ICC in The Hague, he is also known as a man who “kills people easily.”
Ntaganda was born in 1973 in Kinigi, Rwanda. He fled to Ngungu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, when he was a young teenager following attacks on ethnic Tutsi in Rwanda. He began his military career in 1990 with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Rwandan rebel group based in Uganda led by Paul Kagame, the current president of Rwanda. After the RPF ended the genocide against Tutsi and moderate Hutu in July 1994 and formed the new Rwandan government, Ntaganda joined the Rwandan army. While in the Rwandan army, he participated in the invasion of Congo in 1996, during what has become known as Congo’s first war. In 1998, during Congo’s second war, he joined a Congolese rebel group, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (the RCD). In subsequent years he moved among various Congolese rebel groups, before joining the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the Ituri district in 2002.
From 2002 to 2005 he served under the UPC’s leader, Thomas Lubanga, who was convicted in March 2012 by the ICC for recruiting and using child soldiers in Ituri. Ntaganda was chief of military operations under Lubanga and was implicated in many serious human rights abuses, including ethnic massacres, torture, rape, and the massive recruitment of children, some as young as 7. He was the co-accused in the Lubanga case.
In 2006, after leaving the UPC following internal conflicts, Ntaganda became military chief of staff for the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a Tutsi-led rebel group under the leadership of Laurent Nkunda. Backed by Rwanda, the rebel group controlled huge swathes of North Kivu and repeatedly routed the Congolese army in battles. In January 2009, following a secret deal between Congolese and Rwandan officials and with support from Rwandan army officers, Ntaganda ousted Nkunda, took over the leadership of the rebel group and agreed to integrate it into the Congolese army. In exchange for ending the group’s rebellion, Ntaganda was made a general in the Congolese army and deputy commander of military operations in eastern Congo.
Dismayed by Ntaganda’s appointment, a coalition of 51 Congolese civil society organizations in early 2009 appealed to President Joseph Kabila to arrest, rather than promote, Ntaganda:
We cannot forget the terror that Bosco [Ntaganda] unleashed on us for many years, brutally slaughtering the people of Ituri in their thousands without pity, without humanity. We still bear scars that cannot be erased. We must honour the memory of those we lost by saying “never again” to such killings, and sending a strong message that those responsible for such crimes will be held to account. Future generations must know not only that we suffered, but also that we acted to end the suffering by fighting for justice.
Abuses When Commanding Rebel Groups in Ituri and North Kivu
Ntaganda is implicated in some of the most horrific abuses in eastern Congo over the past decade. In Ituri, in addition to the ICC’s charges relating to the use of child soldiers, Ntaganda has been accused of commanding UPC troops who killed at least 800 civilians on an ethnic basis in Mongbwalu and in neighboring villages in November and December 2002.
The military operation to take control of the strategic gold mining town of Mongbwalu lasted six days, during which the group slaughtered civilians on an ethnic basis, chasing down those who fled to the forest, and catching and killing others at roadblocks. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch they saw ethnic Lendu civilians attacked by UPC combatants, who slit their throats or smashed in their heads with hammers, shouting, “We are going to exterminate you – the government won’t help you now.” Child soldiers who testified about their experience before the ICC described how Ntaganda led some of the attacks.
Ntaganda was also implicated in a campaign of arbitrary arrests, execution and enforced disappearance of dozens of civilians on an ethnic basis in Mongbwalu, Bunia and in other locations in Ituri district during his time with the UPC. Witnesses described the campaign as a “manhunt” and in research conducted between 2002 and 2005, Human Rights Watch collected information about more than 100 people victimized by this campaign, though the numbers were probably much higher.
Ntaganda’s alleged involvement in atrocities continued when he joined the rebel group CNDP. In November 2008 in North Kivu, its troops under Ntaganda's command killed an estimated 150 people in the town of Kiwanja, one of the worst massacres by that group in North Kivu. Combatants went house to house, searching for young men and teenage boys whom they suspected of being enemy fighters. The combatants forced doors open, demanded money and cell phones and then shot or otherwise killed the men or boys, slaughtering them in their homes, often in front of their families, or in the street nearby. Some women were also killed, including those who tried to protect family members.
Ntaganda was present during the Kiwanja massacre. Video footage shot by international journalists showed him commanding and ordering his troops in Kiwanja on November 5,2008, the day of the massacre. UN human rights investigators later concluded many of the killings were “retaliatory in nature and ordered and condoned by the command of the CNDP.”
Following the Kiwanja massacre, Ntaganda allegedly abducted two girls from Kiwanja, ages 15 and 16, and took them to a nearby CNDP military position in Rutshuru to be his “wives.” Ntaganda raped the girls repeatedly and forced them to cook for him. One of the girls escaped after five days. In an interview with Human Rights Watch she described how she was forced to live in hiding because Ntaganda’s soldiers had come looking for her at her home after her escape. Others close to Ntaganda interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that Ntaganda regularly forced young women and girls to be his “wives” when he arrived at a new military position.
Abuses While a General in the Congolese Army
Ntaganda continued to commit human rights abuses after he was made a general in the Congolese army and deputy commander of military operations in eastern Congo in early 2009. He used his new position to create a parallel command structure, giving orders to former CNDP soldiers who remained loyal to him rather than to the official military hierarchy and also to other militias not integrated in the army. Ntaganda forced out numerous local chiefs in parts of North Kivu province, replacing them with chiefs loyal to him. Some of the chiefs who objected were assassinated, others were forced out through intimidation and threats. Through this parallel structure, Ntaganda ordered or was implicated in serious abuses.
Deliberate Attacks on Civilians
Troops loyal to Ntaganda carried out numerous attacks on civilians, sometimes during military operations sanctioned by the Congolese army chain of command, but more often in operations that Ntaganda ordered of his own accord. Many of these operations were motivated by efforts to gain control of fertile farmland - forcing ethnic Hunde and Hutu farmers off the land to make way for Tutsi cattle herders. In 2009 troops under his command deliberately killed at least 270 civilians in the area between Nyabiondo and Pinga, in western Masisi territory. In the first six months of 2010, Human Rights Watch documented 25 attacks on villages in the same area, resulting in the deaths of at least 105 civilians. Congolese army soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said Ntaganda played a command role in these attacks.
Attacks linked to control over land in parts of North Kivu continued in 2011 and early 2012, with small groups of soldiers and militia loyal to Ntaganda committing serious human rights abuses – such as killings, rape and burning homes – in efforts to resolve individual land disputes by force.
Targeted Killings, Enforced Disappearances, and Arbitrary Arrests
From January 2010, possibly earlier, Ntaganda began a brutal campaign to target individuals he perceived to be against him, including civil society activists who denounced his abuses or called for his arrest. Human Rights Watch has documented at least 20 targeted killings, two attempted killings, four enforced disappearances, and 18 abductions and arbitrary arrests since January 2010 that were either directly ordered by Ntaganda or in which he was implicated. Dozens of other people have allegedly been threatened or intimidated by Ntaganda or those close to him. Many fled Goma and live in hiding. Most of the incidents occurred in North Kivu, but others took place in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Sylvestre Bwira Kyahi, the civil society president of Masisi territory, was one of those targeted. He was abducted in Goma on August 24, 2010, and held for a week in an underground prison. Bwira had been in hiding since late July following a threatening phone call from Ntaganda’s “secretary” about a public letter Bwira had written to President Kabila, denouncing, among other things, abuses by troops under Ntaganda’s command and calling for Ntaganda’s arrest on the basis of the ICC arrest warrant.
In detention, Bwira was blindfolded, tied to a pillar, and repeatedly beaten. He was questioned by former CNDP soldiers about why he opposed them. Following pressure from civil society and human rights groups, Bwira was “provisionally released” and spent months undergoing medical treatment for the injuries he suffered.
One of the most high-profile assassinations was that of Lt. Col. Antoine Balibuno, a well-known former member of Nkunda’s inner circle who was against Ntaganda’s leadership. Balibuno was shot dead in the center of Goma on September 14, 2010, after being called to a meeting at a bar with two close supporters of Ntaganda. Several Congolese army officers, including former CNDP members, have told Human Rights Watch that Ntaganda gave the order for Balibuno’s assassination.
Some of the people Ntaganda perceived as a threat were not as high-profile. Martine Ndayabaje, a 23-year-old woman responsible for delivering milk to Ntaganda’s home in Goma, was deliberately killed in late December 2010. People close to Ndayabaje told Human Rights Watch that she overheard a confidential conversation at Ntaganda’s home and was killed to silence her. Three days after Christmas 2010, shortly after Ndayabaje was last seen, her body was found on the shores of Lake Kivu. Ntaganda’s soldiers quickly came to collect it, telling her grieving relatives and curious onlookers that they were taking it for “an investigation.” The body was never returned to the family. Two army officers loyal to Ntaganda later came to Ndayabaje’s home and threatened her family, saying they would be killed if they reported what had happened.
Recruitment of Children
Although wanted on an ICC arrest warrant for the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers, Ntaganda and officers loyal to him have continued the forced recruitment of children. One of the worst waves of recruitment was in late 2010, when hundreds of young men and boys were recruited in North and South Kivu provinces, including at least 121 children under age 18. Reports received by Human Rights Watch indicated that there were probably many more.
In the Kitchanga area in mid-November 2010, officers loyal to Ntaganda visited schools and made lists of male students ages 15 to 20. In subsequent weeks, Ntaganda’s soldiers took the youths from schools, homes, fields, or as they walked to and from school and forcibly recruited them into the army. In the village of Charamba on November 15, 2010, seven young men were taken from a football field before a match. Those who resisted risked severe punishment or even death. Many youth in the affected regions hid in the forests or tried to flee to larger towns to escape the forced recruitment, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.
Interference with Justice, Elections and Involvement in Mineral Smuggling
Ntaganda’s reach extended to interfering in the Congolese judicial system and in national elections. In at least nine cases documented by Human Rights Watch, Ntaganda prevented those loyal to him from being brought to justice or shielded them from arrest. In one of the most egregious cases, Lt. Col. Ndayambaje Kipanga, a former CNDP officer close to Ntaganda, was arrested on May 7, 2009, for allegedly raping and imprisoning five girls at his army base in Rutshuru. He escaped from custody two days after his arrest and was later tried and convicted in absentia by a Congolese military court for crimes against humanity for rape and imprisonment. Congolese military officers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said Ntaganda helped facilitate Kipanga’s escape and has continued to protect him from being rearrested.
Ntaganda also sought to interfere in Congo’s presidential and parliamentary elections in November 2011 in support of President Kabila and members of the CNDP political party running for elected office. On Ntaganda’s orders, some candidates and their supporters were threatened, tortured, arrested, and blocked from campaigning.
In one case in August 2011, a local chief, Kapenda Muhima, was shot dead near Kitchanga, allegedly on Ntaganda’s orders, because he had switched his alliance away from the CNDP political party. Before his death, CNDP members warned Kapenda that he had two months to come back to the party or they would kill him, said people close to Kapenda interviewed by Human Rights Watch.
In parts of Masisi territory, North Kivu, former CNDP rebels loyal to Ntaganda were at polling places in civilian clothes, acting as political party witnesses or even providing security, numerous witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Some voters told Human Rights Watch that they felt intimidated by their presence. Others said they witnessed former CNDP soldiers filling out ballots themselves and directly threatening opposition party witnesses.
Ntaganda has also repeatedly been accused of involvement in illegal mineral smuggling by a UN Group of Experts investigating illegal arms trafficking and natural resource exploitation and he has been on a UN sanctions list since 2005. The wealth amassed through these illegal activities has permitted him to cement his power and buy loyalty from other army officers and facilitates his continued human rights abuses.
Bosco Ntaganda: A Chronology
|1973||Born in Kinigi, Rwanda.|
|Mid 1980s||Moves to Ngungu, eastern Congo. Attends secondary school but does not graduate.|
|1990||Joins Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels in southern Uganda.|
|1994||Fights with RPF to end the Rwandan genocide.|
|1994||Joins the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA).|
|1996||First Congo war - participates on the side of the RPA/AFDL.|
|1997||Joins the Congolese army.|
|1998||Second Congo war - joins the Rwandan backed RCD rebels in Goma.|
|1999||RCD splits. Joins the RCD-K-ML splinter faction in Kisangani.|
|1999/2000||Moves to Bunia, Ituri district, with the RCD-K-ML rebels.|
|2002||RCD-K-ML splinters. Joins the UPC rebels.|
|2004||UPC splinters. Joins the UPC/Lubanga rebel faction.|
|Dec 2004||Promoted to general in the Congolese army, but refuses to take up the post.|
|2005||Joins MRC rebels, but the militia group is short-lived.|
|Nov 2005||Placed on UN sanctions list for violating arms embargo.|
|2005/2006||Joins the CNDP rebels and moves to Masisi, North Kivu.|
|Aug 2006||ICC issues sealed arrest warrant for Ntaganda for war crimes committed in Ituri.|
|April 2008||ICC arrest warrant for Ntaganda is made public.|
|Jan 2009||Overthrows Laurent Nkunda with the backing of Rwanda and takes over the leadership of the CNDP.|
|2009||Promoted to general in the Congolese army and takes up his post of deputy commander of military operations in eastern Congo.|
|2011||Takes on the role of acting commander of military operations when his commanding officer suffers injuries in a plane crash.|
|March 2012||Ntaganda’s co-accused, Thomas Lubanga, found guilty of war crimes at the ICC. Prosecutor announces he will add charges of murder and rape to the arrest warrant against Ntaganda.|
|April 2012||Ntaganda urges his loyalists to mutiny and desert the Congolese army; the plan backfires.|