Mystery guest seeks safety in The Hague
In international media there is much talk about the many ‘mysteries’ surrounding Bosco Ntaganda’s surrender to the US embassy in Kigali. But there is of course only one reason why such a warlord, who has been nicknamed The Terminator and who has been in the business of war since he was a teenager, turns himself in. When Ntaganda (born 1973, Rwanda) realized the game was over, no powerful friends were left, the ICC became the only place where he will be safe. It must have been a choice between life and death.
I remember clearly how Anneke van Woudenberg, Congo-expert of Human Rights Watch, at a press conference by NGO’s in the conference room at the ICC last year, called on the Congolese authorities to arrest and extradite Ntaganda. One hour earlier, in the court room two levels up, the judges had declared his comrade Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of war crimes during the bloody wars in Ituri. While Lubanga received a sentence of 14 years (which is under appeal), the charges against Ntaganda have been upgraded to:
-Seven counts of war crimes: enlistment of children under the age of 15, conscription of children, using children to participate actively in hostilities; murder, attacks against the civilian population, rape and sexual slavery, and pillaging.
-Three counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape and sexual slavery, and persecution.
The current indictment, however, refers only to crimes committed in Ituri, while Ntaganda has been active in a much larger area.
In fact, when the guilty verdict against Lubanga (14 March 2012) was pronounced, Ntaganda was holding the position of general in the Congolese army. Being under pressure for many reasons, internal and international, the Congolese president Kabila was planning the arrest of The Terminator. Ntaganda fled with other frustrated rebels and created militiagroup M23, which unleashed a terror campaign in Kivu. The group even managed to occupy Goma for a while, towards the end of 2012. At the time I already wondered why I did not see Ntaganda being interviewed by international media.
The reading was on the wall. All things were not fine within M23. While an international agreement was finally in place to send more UN-troops with a robuster mandate to act in Kivu, recently fighting broke out within the militia. Apparantly Ntaganda lost the power struggle with M23’s top leader Makenga. The Terminator knew his role was finished, he knew his way to Kigali, he had the address of the US embassy and knocked on the door.
For sure Ntaganda might hold many secrets: about Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame when he was still a rebel commander fighting from Uganda against the Hutu regime in Kigali; about the genocide; about Rwanda backing rebels in Congo; about Congolese top officials, and about the mining sector in Kivu. That might be the reason why he surrendered to the US embassy, and not to his former Rwandese friends.
So maybe a bit unexpected, his choice for his diplomatic shelter, but not a big mystery.
Ntaganda asked the Americans to be taken to The Hague. The US is not a member state of the ICC, so it has no obligation to cooperate with the court. But the US has been working with the court – for instance as member of the UN Security Council referring the situations of Sudan and Libya to the ICC.
It is hard to imagine Ntaganda is not being taken to The Hague – even though he has all this confidential information about key players. Anyway, once in the dock, even suspects holding secrets usually loose their political importance.