“I am Bosco Ntaganda. I was born on November 5, 1973 in Rwanda and used to be a military commander before arriving here.” These words had a special ring this morning for the victims of atrocities from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo who have waited many years for this day – for the notorious rebel leader to finally face justice.
Ntaganda’s pretrial hearing at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague began, close to eight years after the ICC issued its first arrest warrant against him.
In the courtroom, Ntaganda wore a dark suit and spoke softly when stating his identity. He quietly looked down as the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, recited the words of one of Ntaganda’s alleged victims: “Thousands of Lendu civilians fled Mongbwalu. We suffered starvation and disease. Bosco ordered to look for those hiding and kill them.” In the afternoon, when the prosecution played a video recorded by a Ugandan journalist that showed Ntaganda in Mongbwalu at the time of the attack, he appeared nervous and started taking notes.
The charges against Ntaganda include murder, persecution, rape, sexual slavery, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The crimes were allegedly committed by one of Ntaganda’s armed groups, the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) in the Ituri district of Congo in 2002-2003.
The lawyers representing the victims voiced their clients’ frustration that it took so long for Ntaganda to be brought to court, and their hopes that justice will finally be served. The lawyer representing children enlisted and abducted by Ntaganda to be soldiers emphasized the fate of girls: many were repeatedly raped, some sent to the front lines, and others became mothers of unwanted babies and were rejected by their families.
For the past decade, Human Rights Watch has documented atrocities committed by armed groups and government forces under Ntaganda’s command, first in Ituri and later in North Kivu province.
The ICC charges against Ntaganda only include alleged crimes committed in Ituri. The ICC prosecutor should go further and also investigate crimes in North Kivu province. Evidence permitting, the court should also prosecute those who armed, trained, and financed Congolese militias, including Ntaganda’s fighters. But the sight of Ntaganda sitting on the accused bench at the ICC today is already a victory and brings those who suffered from abuses a step closer to justice.