‘The Terminator’ Ntaganda Jailed for 30 Years by ICC

-Zaynali Badami

Background: 

Bosco Ntaganda is a former Congolese rebel. He recently got sentenced to 30 years in prison by the ICC on accounts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ntaganda, nicknamed “terminator”, was convicted on 18 counts including homicide, rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers. On March 18, 2013, the Terminator voluntarily showed up at the United States embassy in Kigali, Rwanda and asked to be transferred to the ICC in Hague. Ntaganda had two outstanding arrest warrants, the first issued in 2006 and the second in 2012. He was taken into custody on March 22, 2013, at The Hague. 

What did he do?

In July, a three-judge bench found the terminator guilty on all 18 counts of the crimes committed in the mineral-rich north-eastern region of Ituri between 2002 and 2003. Judge Fremr said that Ntaganda was a “key leader” who gave orders to “target and kill civilians”. Ntaganda was key in the establishment and the running of the operations for the Union of Congolese Patriots (UCP) rebels and its military wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). The armed group was responsible for the attacks against the people who were perceived not to belong to the Hema ethnic group, the ICC found. One of the most gruesome attacks was one where the fighters captured 49 people in a banana field behind a village and then executed all of them using knives and machetes. This was a huge massacre since they found men, women, children and babies. Some bodies were found naked, some had hands tied up, several bodies were disembowelled, some had their heads crushed or otherwise mutilated. He was initially charged with sexual slavery. He was running a sex trade using not only women but also children. The nickname ‘terminator’ came in when he shot an elderly priest and massacred and entire village in the same afternoon. Just like the earlier banana field incident, in this case, the bodies were in a similar state if not worse. 

The 18 Charges: 

Thirteen counts of war crimes:

  1. Murder
  2. Attempted murder
  3. Attacking civilians 
  4. Rape
  5. Sexual slavery of civilians
  6. Pillaging
  7. Displacement of civilians
  8. Attacking protected objects
  9. Destroying the enemy property 
  10. Rape of child soldiers
  11. Enlisting of child soldiers
  12. Conscripting child soldiers
  13. Sexual slavery of child soldiers 

Five counts of crimes against humanity:

  1. Murder and Attempted murder
  2. Rape
  3. Sexual slavery
  4. Persecution 
  5. Forcible transfer of population

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The Trial:

Throughout the trial, Mr Ntaganda told the court he was not a criminal but a trained officer who always protected civilians, which was false. It was the longest standing trial at the ICC. 

Timeline: 

September 8, 2000:

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) signs the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. (The Rome Statute outlines the structure and the areas of jurisdiction the ICC has)

April 11, 2002:

The DRC ratifies the Rome Statute of the ICC

June 2004:

After a referral from Congolese President Joseph Kabila, the ICC opens an investigation into the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo

January 12, 2006:

The prosecution applies for its first warrant of arrest against Bosco Ntaganda. The prosecution charged the military leader with war crimes of recruiting and using child soldiers in active combat in 2002 and 2003 in the Ituri district.

August 22, 2006:

The ICC issued a sealed arrest warrant for Ntaganda. The arrest warrant remained under seal because, according to the court, “public knowledge of the proceedings in the case might result in Bosco Ntaganda hiding, fleeing, and/or obstructing or endangering the investigations or the proceedings of the court.”

April 28, 2008:

 The ICC unsealed the arrest warrant Ntaganda, after determining that the ‘circumstances’ that led to the sealing have changed, that unsealing the arrest warrant would neither endanger the witnesses nor endanger the case as a whole. The unsealed warrant revealed that the chamber found there were reasonable grounds to believe that Ntaganda had de jure and de facto authority over the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) in its practice of enlisting and conscripting child soldiers and that Ntaganda had taken part directly in attacks in which FLPC soldiers under the age of 15 actively participated 

May 14, 2012:

The prosecution requests a second arrest warrant for Ntaganda for additional crimes committed in the Ituri region. 

July 13, 2012:

The ICC issues its second warrant for the terminator. The expanded charges include crimes against humanity. The charges all relate to crimes alleged to have taken place in the Ituri region between 2002 and 2003.

March 18, 2013:

The terminator surrenders himself at the US embassy and asks to be transferred to the ICC in the Hague. 

March 26, 2013:

Bosco appears for the first time before an ICC judge who schedules the confirmation of charges hearing for September.

September 2, 2015

The trial of Bosco commences at the seat of the court in The Hague.

July 8, 2019:

Trial Chambers VI unanimously finds the terminator guilty on all 18 charges and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. 

Conclusion:

The accused shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the onus is on the prosecution to demonstrate the guilt of the accused. For a conviction, each element of the particular offence charged must be established ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Hence the bench found him guilty on all charges and hence sentenced him. There was a controversy regarding his sentence of 30 years since the magnitude of crimes is extremely intense. The ICC is consistent with the international human rights standards and hence cannot give a death penalty. The maximum they can give is 30 years prison (which they did). Another end of the spectrum is where people feel he should not have been given such a harsh punishment. 

There were 2 reasons for the same:

  1. He submitted himself and surrendered and hence must be given some grace for the same. 
  • This is a very flimsy argument at best since he avoided 2 arrest warrants and remained undercover and it was proven that the only reason that he surrendered was that his life was in danger in the outside world. 

2. He was just a rebel fighter. It was tried to be argued that he was a freedom fighter and not a terrorist, essentially the aim of his fighting was the survival of his rebellion group. 

  • This argument also fell because even if they assume the best case of that being true, there was no reason for the mutilation, rape especially of the children, women and civilians since they were of no threat to his survival. 

This has been the first time a man has been sentenced for sexual slavery by the ICC court. It is a landmark judgement and verdict by the ICC since they not only took down a huge rebel but also gave the first 30-year sentence ever. This should be a trend on their behalf to give harsher sentences especially to war criminals since the retribution acts as a deterrent to the other youth who sign up for such armed rebellions or terrorist organisations. 

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