DR Congo: Trial of former warlord begins in The Hague

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Former warlord Bosco Ntaganda played a “key role” in ethnic crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, using child soldiers and capturing sex slaves for his rebel army, the ICC heard on February 10th.

M23 rebels in Goma, November 2012

The man known as “The Terminator” appeared at the Hague-based court where judges will decide if there’s enough evidence to charge him for crimes committed in the central African country a decade ago.

“Bosco Ntaganda… prosecuted civilians on ethnic grounds through deliberate attacks, forced displacement, murder, rape, sexual enslavement and pillaging…,” ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told pre-trial judges.

She has five days to convince judges that he should be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed by Ntaganda’s rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s restive east in 2002-3.

“Bosco Ntaganda’s role was central to this army. He was the… military commander in charge of operations,” said Bensouda, adding “he personally used child soldiers in attacks.”

Prosecutors allege that Ntaganda, who handed himself in at the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, to face charges in a shock move in early 2013, led “by negative example”, raping child and women soldiers and keeping them as sex slaves.

This “communicated a message of official approval and further contributed to the crimes,” court documents said.

Earlier Ntaganda, speaking in the Kinyarwanda language, told the court: “My name is Bosco Ntaganda, I am a soldier,” when asked his profession.

Wearing a charcoal suit and sporting his trademark pencil moustache, Ntaganda listened intently, but showed no emotion as the charges against him were read.

Ntaganda is the founder of the M23 rebel group Kinshasa eventually defeated in late 2013, after an 18-month insurgency in the eastern DR Congo’s North Kivu region.

He is facing 13 counts of war crimes and five of crimes against humanity over abuses allegedly committed a decade ago when he was a warlord in Ituri, further north.

Prosecutors say at least 800 people were killed by Ntaganda’s Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) as they battled rival militias for control of the mineral-rich area.

At his first appearance in March 2013, Ntaganda told judges: “I was informed of these crimes and I plead not guilty.”

The judges have two months the February 10th hearing to make a decision.

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