Today the Trial Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court (ICC) found Bosco Ntaganda guilty of 13 counts of war crimes and 5 counts of crimes against humanity, committed in the 2002-2003 Ituri conflict, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Our organisations, having documented crimes committed in Ituri and submitted material to the ICC, welcome the decision, which is a victory for the thousands of victims of the FPLC in Ituri, particularly those of sexual and gender based crimes. While this verdict represents an important victory against impunity, the Court should take steps to ensure justice for other DRC victims, including in the Eastern region and in Kasaï.
Ntaganda, as deputy chief of staff and commander of military operations of the Forces Patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC), led troops in brutal atrocities against civilian populations. While the case against his predecessor, Thomas Lubanga, founder and leader of the FPLC, contributed to the truth and justice around child recruitment in the FPLC, the broad set of charges brought against Ntaganda reflects a wide range of atrocities committed against the population in the Ituri province and answers the needs of victims.
Today, judges found that Bosco Ntaganda was guilty as direct and indirect perpetrator or co perpetrator, of all charges of murders, intentional attacks against the civilian population, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, conscription of minors under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities, deportation and forcible transfer of population, attacks against protected objects, and destruction of the adversary’s property.
“Today is a long-awaited day for the victims of the FPLC, who never stopped fighting for the day when Ntaganda would be held to account,” said Dismas Kitenge, President of Groupe Lotus. “This verdict is all the more significant considering the continued acts of violence against civilians in Ituri.”
Ntaganda’s case is unique in that he held a senior position when the alleged crimes were committed. The charges pursued by ICC Prosecutor against him, for which he was found guilty today, include crimes committed by his subordinates for which he was responsible as military commander. Additionally, the first case judged on the situation in the DRC to include charges of sexual and gender-based crimes (SGBC), and the first time that the ICC has charged acts of rape and sexual slavery committed against child soldiers under an official’s command, within a militia group, as well as against civilians. Ntaganda’s conviction of SGBC charges, rape and sexual slavery against men, women and children, is the only conviction of these crimes at the ICC.
“Our organisations have long called for an increased focus on sexual and gender-based crimes, both in the cases at the ICC and at the national level within the DRC,” said Paul Nsapu, President of the Ligue des Electeurs and FIDH Deputy Secretary-General. “Victims of these crimes played a crucial role in shedding light on these heinous crimes by participating in the case’s proceedings”
While Ntaganda’s conviction is a milestone for the DRC situation at the ICC and a victory for all those who pursued justice for crimes committed in Ituri, several suspected criminals still enjoy impunity (including Sylvestre Mudacumura, who is still at large) and atrocities continue to be committed in the country, most notably in Eastern DRC. Victims and civil society continue to call on the Court to act on alleged crimes that may fall under the Court’s jurisdiction. And to date, the efforts made by national authorities to identify and prosecute perpetrators responsible for the alleged crimes committed in particular in the Kasai province have been limited and insufficient.
The ICC does not have any longer an active investigation in DRC, meaning that the situation will not be prioritized, given the limited resources the Court faces.
“While we agree that the primary responsibility for prosecuting crimes committed in the DRC falls on the Congolese authorities, the ICC is well placed to influence the capacity of Congolese authorities and encourage investigations of all parties who committed, or continue to commit, crimes in the DRC,” said Jean-Claude Katende, ASADHO President.
In light of the continued violence and insufficient national prosecutions, this decision must be widely disseminated in outreach efforts by the Court’s Registry, as well as Congolese authorities, to send a strong message that impunity will not prevail.
Our organisations call on the ICC to promptly deliver a sentencing decision and to start the proceedings on reparations, giving due consideration to the views and concerns of victims and the harm they suffered.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).