Former Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda goes on trial at the International Criminal Court Wednesday to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ntaganda is accused of being responsible for atrocities committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo more than a decade ago.
Nicknamed “The Terminator,” Bosco Ntaganda spent years as a rebel leader in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. But, the 18 charges against him narrowly relate to fighting in DRC’s Ituri region between 2002 and 2003. They include murder, attempted murder, attacks against civilians and sexual slavery.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of the trial’s opening, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Ntaganda’s behavior has raised alarms far beyond DRC and the surrounding Great Lakes region.
FILE - ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda looks on during the case against Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda [not shown] at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, February 2014.
“We believe he ordered his troops to attack, pillage, rape, persecute and kill civilians belonging to Lendu, Ngiti and other ethnic groups. And we believe he recruited hundreds of children into the UCP [Union of Congolese Patriots rebel group] and used them to kill and to die in the fighting and girl soldiers to be routinely raped,” she said.
Ntaganda has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Stephane Bourgon, described the case as complex. He said the context in which the events took place was key and warned against the temptation of jumping to conclusions.
Following a peace deal with the government in 2009, Ntaganda was made a general in the army; but, in 2012, he formed a new rebel group called the M23. A year later, he surrendered to the U.S. embassy in neighboring Rwanda and was transferred to ICC custody at The Hague.
Human Rights Watch has called Ntaganda’s trial a victory for victims and their families - and for rights activists across the eastern DRC.