This week, Bosco Ntaganda is in court for the confirmation of charges hearing at the ICC. You can watch the Court’s live stream (with a slight delay) here. Ntaganda has been wanted by the ICC since 2006, when Luis Moreno Ocampo was issuing the Court’s first arrest warrants, including that for for Thomas Lubanga Diylo. Lubanga would go on to become the Court’s first-ever conviction. Ntaganda would continue to play a leading role in one of the world’s worst conflicts in history before surrendering in Kigali in March of last year. He’s now been in ICC custody for about a year and a wanted war criminal for almost 8. It’s easy to forget how we got here.
The arrest warrant for Lubanga was issued under seal on 10 February, 2006 and unsealed a little over a month later, one day after he was transferred to The Hague. The arrest warrant for Bosco was issued under seal on 22 August, 2006 and unsealed almost 2 years later, about 5 years before he would surrender in Kigali. Before that, Ntaganda lived openly in Goma, notoriously flaunting his most-wanted status. In scenes of disturbing irony, Ntaganda would play tennis and dine at the same clubs and restaurants as the aid workers and UN staff charged with supporting the victims of the war in which he played a leading role.
Ntaganda, generally just known as “Bosco” or “The Terminator”, was indicted by the ICC for alleged crimes committed in the northeastern Ituri region between 2002 and 2003, the same region and time frame used by the the Prosecutor for the cases against Lubanga, Germain Katanga and Mathew Ngudjolo Chui. But Ntaganda has played a far more substantial role in the Congo wars than these three. In 2009, he was integrated into the Congolese army along with the Congres national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), as part of a deal between Congo and Rwanda, receiving support from the UN. He played a key role in military operations, in North Kivu politics, in lucrative (and shady) mining deals and eventually in the M23 rebellion.
No one expected Ntaganda’s surrender. But signs had been pointing to a weakened position. Joseph Kabila spoke publicly about arresting him in April, 2012 (although not publicly endorsing the ICC’s involvement) and the Congolese government issued a communique in July, 2012 calling for his arrest. In July of 2012 the Prosecutor reissued a warrant for Ntagnda’s arrest. In November, when the M23 briefly took over Goma, he was not on the scene. And then a couple months before his surrender, an internal M23 split led to severe in-fighting and the deaths of several officers. It seems he had nowhere else to go. Seven months after Ntaganda’s arrest and a year after it let Goma fall, the Congolese army wiped out the M23 with help from MONUSCO’s new intervention brigade in the space of a couple weeks.
Given that the trials against Lubanga, Katanga and Ngudjolo Chui were all confirmed at this stage, there’s little doubt the case will go to trial. We’ll hear a lot about the horrific crimes that Ntaganda allegedly committed in Ituri almost 12 years ago. It will be important not to forget how we got here and what Ntaganda is responsible for outside Ituri. It will also be important to remember how he represents both the limits of international justice, especially when it runs ups against the interests of domestic politics, and the many ways that the international community has failed the Congo. At the same time, that he saw surrender as a better option than, say, fighting to the death shows how the relatively young ICC can work in unexpected ways.