Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Bosco Ntaganda's days of freedom in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, may be numbered if President Joseph Kabila responds to international pressure that the militia leader be arrested.
That pressure is steadily increasing as testimony of former child soldiers continues to point to Ntaganda's key role in the militia of Thomas Lubanga, currently being tried by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Lubanga has been on trial since late January and has been accused of conscripting and using child soldiers in his militia in 2002 and 2003.
Ntaganda, who was indicted by the ICC in August 2008 for similar crimes, has repeatedly been named by child soldiers testifying before the court in the Lubanga trial. Yet, Ntaganda remains free in eastern DRC.
The Congolese government appears reluctant to hand him over to the ICC while details are finalised for the incorporation of his militia into the national army.
Although Ntaganda separated from his former commander, militia leader Laurent Nkunda, who is currently in custody in Rwanda, he appears to have been one of the masterminds in Lubanga’s Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, FPLC.
Ntaganda has been portrayed as having a pivotal role in the militia by at least three witnesses, some who suggest that the man arranged weapons for fighters, gave orders for attacks on villages of Lendu people, and used child soldiers as bodyguards.
These testimonies come as calls are growing locally and internationally for Ntaganda’s hand-over to the ICC.
Recently, a group of Congolese human rights organisations opposed plans to integrate Ntaganda and his fighters into the national army. They said there could be no peace in the country unless Ntaganda and his troops face justice.
At The Hague, one former child testified that Ntaganda is the one who gave orders to soldiers who kidnapped him and several other children, and that he regularly inspected their training camp.
And when the soldiers fought at a village called Lipri in which their junior commander was killed, Ntaganda sent them more arms.
In other recent testimony, a girl, who told court she was conscripted at the age of 13, said when she and others finished training, Ntaganda appeared a their camp and took them to attack Lipri, which she described as a Lendu community where the villagers were only armed with bows and arrows.
The witness also said Ntaganda commanded the battle of Mongbwalu, a gold mining town where she described the fighting as fierce.
According to the witness, after capturing Mongbwalu, the unit stayed for some time. “There was lots of money and gold mining, so we had to stay in Mongbwalu for a long time,” she said.
Another witness, whose role in the militia was not given but who seemed to have been senior because he testified that he visited Lubanga's residence an average of three times a week, also implicated Ntaganda.
Ntaganda had direct access to Lubanga’s quarters, the witness said, and was escorted by bodyguards, some of whom were 13 and 15 years old.
Ntaganda's role as one of the two top commanders of Nkunda’s militia should also not be forgotten.
The militia has been accused of using sexual violence as a weapon of war, grabbing pupils from schools, and conscripting them into its ranks.
In addition, in November 2008, Nkunda’s fighters were accused of killing more than 100 civilians in the village of Kiwanja. The militia has denied the charge, saying the dead were Mai-Mai militia fighters.
Failure to capture Ntaganda and deliver him to The Hague would be a travesty of international justice.
It could bolster opposition in Uganda and Sudan to the respective arrest warrants for the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebel leaders and Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.
Ironically, Kabila's government has in the past acquiesced to ICC requests, handing over people such as Lubanga, who had abandoned fighting to join the government, much in the same manner that Ntaganda is negotiating to do.
Congo also handed over Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui to the ICC, both of whom are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But Kabila, struggling to pacify his country after a decade of debilitating conflict, is waffling on Ntaganda.
His regime has indicated that the need for peace in eastern Congo – the unfortunate theatre of Lubanga and Ntaganda's deadly enterprise – is paramount to the capture and delivery of Ntaganda.
Kabila's seeming reluctance to hand in Ntaganda, who roams about the town of Goma and regularly meets Kabila's ministers, points to a president who could be seen as willing to pay a high price for peace.
Unfortunately, impunity in Congo cannot be stopped and peace cannot be secure when those who are the victims of gross human rights must tolerate an alleged perpetrator being allowed to go free after making deals with the government that is supposed to protect them.
Wairagala Wakabi is a Ugandan journalist and IWPR contributor based in Sweden. His daily updates from the Lubanga trial can be seen on www.lubangatrial.org.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of IWPR.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight