When a warlord arrives at the International Criminal Court in The Hague

A new family

Court officials are on their way to Rwanda to fetch Bosco Ntaganda. The warlord is accused of horrific crimes:  murder, rape, sexual slavery, using childsoldiers in combat, pillaging, attacking civilians and persecution. His transfer can be a matter of days, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said. When all formalities have been dealt with, the delegation will probably fly the man nicknamed ‘The Terminator’ straight to The Netherlands, and take him to the detention centre in beach town Scheveningen, which is part of the city of The Hague. This can all be arranged really fast. (The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has this story about a suspect who was arrested in the morning, immediately taken to an aeroplane to fly that same day to The Hague. First thing he asked when he arrived: ‘Can I call my wife, because she does not know where I am.’)

Upon arrival militia leader Ntaganda will – probably – receive two smart suits. Unless he prepared himself extremely well before getting to the US embassy in Kigali – where he sought shelter on Monday saying he wanted to go to the ICC – that he took with him a suitcase including an outfit for future official events. It has been standard service of the court, Marc Dubuisson, Director Division of Court Services, told me in an interview in autumn, 2011, for the Dutch newspaper Trouw, to hand out two suits to a suspect, so he can appear decently before the judges. It is a matter of respect, Dubuisson said. Take the example of former president Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, who arrived 30 November 2011 in The Hague wearing just a shirt and a pair of trousers, which were neither fit for the cold Dutch winter nor for his appearance in court. And although today officially spring has started (21 March), The Netherlands are still facing freezing temperatures. It is actually snowing at the moment.

Lots of things will be arranged for Ntaganda’s stay in the detention facility. Certainly during the first days his mental state will be closely monitored. One of the biggest worries of detention officials is depressions, and the risk of suicide, among detainees.

I am sure the ICC has meanwhile been studying the schedule to fix a date for Ntaganda’s initial appearance hearing, which takes place within a few days after the suspect’s arrival. During that relative short session he will be informed about the charges. The judges will check his identity and whether he understands the language the court is using. This will be the first time an international public will be able to see The Terminator in the dock – directly from the public gallery or through video streaming which the court provides (that is, if it is working).

But before that happens Ntaganda, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, will need to have a lawyer. The ICC has a special independent section – the Office of Public Counsel for the Defence (OPCD) – that can help him out. Ntaganda can choose one from the list with registered counsels with excellent track records, who do manage to get clients acquitted.

If the court pays for Ntaganda’s defence, officials will check whether The Terminator has gathered enough money to pay his lawyer himself. (In the media there have been many reports about Ntaganda’s dealings in the mining trade, spotting him in restaurants and playing tennis in Kivu. Some experts think that actually his mining dealings could have contributed to his fall since he might have pushed others out of business).

The first months Ntaganda will not spend much time in the dock. He will be spending all his time in detention. Ntaganda will have a computer. That is necessary because the ICC is an e-court. Most of the documents and other materials relating to his case are being filed through the computer system. Some suspects actually need lessons before they can handle computers.

By the way. These computers are not connected to the world-wide-web, so there will be no possibility for surfing on the net or dropping an email to family or friends. This is detention after all.

In the facility Ntaganda will be meeting up with his former comrade Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – who was convicted last year and sentenced to 14 years in jail. His case – fully related to that of Ntaganda – is in appeal. The Terminator will also meet his former enemy Germain Katanga, with whom Ntaganda and Lubanga were at war in Ituri. (Another foe, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui has just left the place, after he was acquitted 18 December 2012 – for the record, he is now in asylum detention in The Netherlands).

Also present is Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo – he is the only one currently very busy with court hearings. Then there is of course former head of state Laurent Gbagbo, who just has had his confirmation of charges hearings – the judges are studying the evidence against him to see whether the case is strong enough for trial.

Did I forget anyone? I assume Charles Taylor is still around – although not an ICC-client but convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, he was detained at the ICC-block as well. With his case in appeal, he should be still in The Hague.

How does life in this top class detention facility look like? During the day the men can leave their cells and go to the fitness, follow courses such as music lessons and painting. And although the francophone suspects love speaking French, they all want to learn English. They can wash their own clothes, cook dinner and follow the news on television. Dubuisson explained in the 2011 interview the men get on really well. ‘They are just like a family.’

I am sorry, indeed I forgot three ‘members of the family.’ In fact, almost everybody has forgotten about them. These Congolese men have been detained for exactly two years at the ICC-facility. Not as suspects. They are witnesses. This is a hugely complex situation. In March 2011 they were flown from Kinshasa – where they were detained without trial – as prisoners to The Hague to testify in favor of their militia comrades Katanga and Ngudjolo. The plan was they would immediately return. But after their testimony in court, during which they criticized the Congolese authorities including president Kabila of human rights violations, they were too scared to go back to Congo. The men feared for their lives. Finally they managed to apply for asylum in The Netherlands, from their cells at the ICC-detention. Their lawyers and an expert have compared – for different reasons - the situation of these three specific witnesses to Guantanamo Bay, in The Netherlands.


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