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February 10, 2014

Ex-Congolese Warlord Appears at War Crimes Court

by Lisa Bryant

The International Criminal Court opened a hearing Monday to decide whether to bring Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda to trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Ntaganda, who was deported to The Hague court last year, says he is innocent. 

Wearing a dark grey suit, former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda sat impassively as the International Criminal Court's prosecutor Fatou Bensouda outlined her case against him.

​​​​"Your Honors, Bosco Ntaganda, the notorious commander known as The Terminator, is here before you because of his role in pursuing a campaign of violence and terror against civilians a children for more than one year," she announced.  "And for failing to punish crimes committed by troops under his effective command and control."

​​Ntaganda is more recently known as the alleged leader of the M23 rebel movement that controlled large chunks of the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province in 2012.  He fled to neighboring Rwanda last year and took refuge at the U.S. embassy there, before being deported to The Hague.

The 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity against him deal with atrocities that took place in DRC's northeastern Ituri region between 2002 and 2003.  At the time, Ntaganda served under another warlord, Thomas Lubanga, who is now appealing a 14-year prison sentence handed down by the ICC.

​​Bensouda offered graphic examples of the fighting in two areas of Ituri that at the time pitted the region's Hema and Lendu tribes against each other.

"During these two assaults, thousands of people were forcibly displaced, killed, raped and used as sexual slaves, their goods pillaged, their property destroyed, " she told the court.

One of the lawyers for the victims, Sarah Pellet, described how young girls were raped and sent to the front lines to fight by Ntaganda's men.

Pellet said the victims were waiting for Ntaganda to have the courage to apologize for robbing them of their childhood and ruining their lives.

Ntaganda says he is innocent and his lawyers will be outlining their case during the weeklong hearing.  The ICC judges will have 60 days to decide whether or not to go ahead with a trial.