Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after fighting erupted between government forces and soldiers loyal to General Bosco Ntaganda.
Kambala Musavuli, a spokesperson for Friends of the Congo, said the current uprising, by rebel forces known as the CNDP, began in March as international pressure mounted against the group’s leader. Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for recruiting child soldiers — a charge he denies.
The ICC arrest warrant was issued in 2006; three years later Ntaganda and his fighters were made part of the Congolese army as part of a peace deal.
“We’re seeing now that people are suffering from that. It was predictable. You don’t integrate a former human rights abuser into the military. They will continue the human rights abuse,” said Musavuli.
The pressure to arrest Ntaganda increased after another former rebel leader in the DRC, Thomas Lubanga, was convicted by the ICC of war crimes in March. Like Ntaganda, Lubanga was also accused of recruiting child soldiers. After the verdict, Musavuli explained, President Joseph Kabila said he would arrest Ntganda, but the president said the Rwandan national would be tried in the DRC rather than at the ICC.
“As you put the pressure little by little, we see actions on the ground,” he added. “Kabila made a statement that Basco will be arrested, but he’s been shying away from being strong on the statement.”
According to Musavuli, the Congolese justice institutions are not adequate to try Ntaganda, and he should go to the ICC.
“We must bring these rebel leaders to justice so that they don’t continue to repeat these crimes,” he said. “There needs to be an end to the culture of impunity.”
But Musavuli also stressed that simply arresting Ntaganda would not put an end to the ongoing violence in the DRC. “We are arresting drug dealers, before arresting kingpins,” he said. Musavuli said in this case, the problem will not be solved unless the DRC addresses tensions with the governments of neighboring countries, such as Rwanda and Uganda, which he says have provided support to these rebel leaders in the past.
“If the political problem that exists in the Congo between Rwanda and the Congo is not solved, we will have another rebel leader.”
He likened the situation to crimes Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor was recently convicted of by the United Nations-supported Special Court for Sierra Leone. The former Liberian leader was found guilty of “aiding and abetting” war crimes in Sierra Leone.
“He is not from Sierra Leone, but he was tried for crimes he committed in Sierra Leone, and this is the same case with Basco Ntaganda,” said Musavuli, since Ntaganda is Rwandan and his crimes were allegedly supported by some in Rwanda.
Musavuli added that he thinks international criminal bodies such as the ICC also need to widen their scope: “I’m also in agreement with the many people who do believe that there needs to be a shift in cases at the ICC where we don’t just see Africans…We know crimes are taking place around the world.”
Though the ICC has received complaints about alleged crimes in more than 130 countries, the court’s prosecutor has opened official investigations into seven situations – all in African countries.