Prosecutors say he was key in planning attacks on civilians in north-east DRC, but defence denies ethnic character of conflict
“My name is Bosco Ntaganda. When I arrived at the ICC I was a soldier, but I’m no longer a soldier any more.”
Spoken in the Kinyarwanda language, these were words that few had expected to hear in a court of law.
For years Ntaganda, a Congolese militia leader and fugitive from justice dubbed “The Terminator”, could be seen dining in fine restaurants and playing tennis at a luxury hotel, a living symbol of apparent impunity.
On Monday however, he was confronted with his alleged war crimes by prosecutors at The Hague. Ntaganda ordered fighters to shoot and behead civilians, rape women and recruit child soldiers, the international criminal court (ICC) was told.
The prosecution told judges that Ntaganda, now about 40, had committed the crimes while leading fighters of Hema ethnicity to drive ethnic Lendus out of the mineral-rich Ituri region in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo more than a decade ago.
The allegations against Ntaganda were made at the opening of a five-day hearing to decide if there is sufficient evidence for him to stand trial. He is not required to make a formal plea at this stage but denies all 18 charges against him.
“He played a key role in planning assaults against the civilian population in order to gain territory,” chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, told the hearing. She added: “He persecuted civilians on ethnic grounds, through deliberate attacks, forced displacement, murder, rape, sexual enslavement and pillaging. “
Rwandan-born Ntaganda, commander of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia, had “failed to prevent or punish crimes by troops under his effective command or control,” she added.
Dmytro Surprun, a lawyer representing victims of the alleged crimes, said: “Victims were killed by bullets, by arrows, by nail-studded sticks. Most of them were mutilated, some were decapitated and their head borne as a trophy.”
Ntaganda was indicted in 2006, accused of murder and keeping women as sex slaves, earning comparisons with Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony on the ICC’s most wanted list. But after years fighting for various rebel movements, he became a general in the Congolese army in 2009 and was able to roam the eastern city of Goma at will, cocking a snook at both the ICC and UN peacekeepers.
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