Tag Archives: International Criminal Court

ICC Fails to Bring Uhuru Kenyatta to Trial in The Hague: The Story Continues….

20 Jan
http://United Nations.org

http://United Nations.org


On Wednesday December 3rd, 2014 amidst public grumblings that the International Criminal Court (ICC) would lift the indictment against the current President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, ICC Prosecutor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda did just that. On Friday, December 5th she withdrew all five counts of “Crimes against Humanity” against the newly- elected President of Kenya. Kenyatta had been previously indicted under the tenure of former ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo for funding and orchestrating the violent actions of a secret sect known as Mungiki and inciting its members to perform crimes of rape, arson, and murder within Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa, the city of Kisumu, and the municipalities of Nakuru and Naivasha during the 2007 Presidential elections. An estimated 1,300 people were killed as a result of this organized brutality while an additional 600,000 lost their homes or property and were moved by the government into displacement camps. It was determined that Kenyatta’s primary objective in inciting this violence among the tribes was to ensure the election of then incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, a close political friend and fellow member of the Kikuyu tribe. Mr. Raila Odinga, member of the Luo tribe and opposition leader from the Lake Victoria Region had been steadily gaining in popularity and Kenyatta was eventually accused by the court of creating and maintaining this civil unrest during 2007/2008 to ensure that Mr. Kibaki, not Mr. Odinga won the election. Mr. Odinga stated publically immediately after the 2007 election that he had been “cheated of victory” claiming that the voting “had been rigged.” Supporters of Mr. Odinga continued to riot well into 2008 causing President Kibaki to create a new position for Mr. Odinga appointing him Kenya’s Prime Minster in order to help stem the violence. Ms. Bensouda cited “lack of evidence” as the reason for her withdrawal but warned Kenyan officials that she reserved the right to re-file these charges if and when “substantial evidence” emerged to support the indictment.

Mr. Fergal Gaynor, the ICC- appointed lawyer for the victims of the 2007-2008 presidential election violence informed a host of foreign news agencies that the Kenyan government did not cooperate and “did everything it could to withhold information as well important documents such as bank statements and telephone records” that would have shown Kenyatta’s specific role in planning the bloodshed. He claimed that witnesses in this case had either been bribed to change their statements or threatened with death if they testified against Kenyatta and his associates at their trials. He went on to say that government officials “had systematically undermined the court’s ability to conduct a full and just investigation of this matter.” According to Gaynor, Kenyan politicians shielded their president from prosecution by “conducting a well- organized and united effort, planned to undermine the judicial process”. Ms. Bensouda supported Gaynor’s claims also accusing the Kenyan government of “failing to cooperate” and admitting that their actions had had a “severe impact on the court’s ability to carry out a complete investigation.”

Kenyatta, son of the first President and Liberator of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta had voluntarily appeared before the court on April 8, 2011 to attend the Information of Charges hearing at The Hague in order to learn about the five counts brought against him. With the indictment against him withdrawn he will no longer have to suffer through a long drawn-out trial in Belgium and spend many months away from his office in Kenya. He took the news graciously at first then admonished the members of the court for displaying what he believed was a clear example of “political persecution”. He pointed out that the ICC prosecutor had incurred “a certain loss of respect” as a result of conducting what he deemed was “a very hurried and disorganized investigation”. And he wasn’t alone in feeling victimized just for being African. In September 2013, Kenya’s National Assembly passed a resolution to withdraw from the ICC in protest over the indictment of both their President and Deputy President. And in October of the same year the African Union organized a special summit to consider the current actions of the ICC. A motion was made that “every country in the Union immediately withdraw from the ICC” but was not acted upon. Yet the African Union did make their position on this matter perfectly clear in all subsequent communiques to the ICC stating that “standing heads of state in all African countries must not be placed on trial” and by November, 2013 the ICC had promised to consider the African Union’s request. Unfortunately, this was not the first time African nations had called for a mass exodus from the ICC. In June 2003, the countries of Comoros, Djibouti, and Senegal called for all African countries to withdraw from the ICC in protest over the fact that only residents of African nations “had been indicted, brought to trial, or convicted of Crimes Against Humanity” and were especially outraged over the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created in July of 1998 after the ratification of the Roman Statute the treaty which established the global mission of this court. The statue delineates the court’s goals, structure, and jurisdiction. It began its official judicial operations in The Hague, Belgium as of 2002 by establishing definitions for the four international crimes used in identifying and prosecuting all cases. The specific crimes have been listed as: 1.) Genocide, 2.) Crimes against Humanity, 3.) War Crimes, and 4.) Crimes of Aggression; although the court cannot prosecute anyone for Crimes of Aggression. None of these crimes are subjected to any Statue of Limitations and defendants can be tried freely at any time well into the future. This international tribunal is only permitted to investigate and prosecute individuals who have engaged in the first three crimes in countries who are unable or unwilling to do so themselves. The ICC may also be directed to investigate specific allegations of any one or all of these three crimes by the United Nations Security Council. By 2014 the ICC had a global membership of 122 countries, 34 of which are located on the continent of Africa. Since its inception it has publically indicted 36 individuals and convicted two. Thomas Lubanga Dyllo was tried and sentenced to 14 years in prison while Germaine Katanga was tried and sentenced to 12 for crimes committed during the two wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Had Kenyatta’s indictment not been dropped he would have been the second standing President to be charged by the court. Muammar Gaddafi was indicted for Crimes against Humanity as well in June of 2011 but was killed on October 20, 2011. Omar al- Bashir, President of the Republic of the Sudan was the first. Mr. Bashir was declared a fugitive by the court for not responding to his indictment or summons in 2009. He is still President of this country and lives openly in Sudan even traveling to other sympathetic countries in Africa when he chooses. The ICC has no standing army or police force of its own to enforce arrest warrants so must rely on the United Nations and/or host countries’ troops to locate and arrest indicted fugitives.

So why wasn’t the ICC’s indictment of Kenyatta able to stand on its own merit? Well, according to David Kaye, a specialist in international affairs it had little to do with Ms. Bensouda’s actions and everything to do with those of the previous ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. In his 2011 article published in the Journal of Foreign Affairs entitled, “Whose Afraid of the ICC?” Mr. Kaye goes on to explain Moreno-Ocampo’s “poor management and decision-making style that alienated subordinates as well as court officials”. He describes Moreno-Ocampo’s “ petty battles over turf and resources”; “erratic decision-making; brash behavior; and charges of politicization,” all undermining his success as the ICC Prosecutor. He believed that “Moreno- Ocampo’s recurring judicial setbacks have cast doubt on his role as Prosecutor.” And Mr. Kaye was not the only one who’d demanded Mr. Moreno- Ocampo’s resignation.

In November 2009, Human Rights Watch sent a public letter to the ICC expressing their deep concerns about Moreno- Ocampo’s role as the ICC Prosecutor. They criticized his performance accusing him of “grandstanding and holding press conferences rather than collecting the evidence needed to support each indictment”. They added that in the case of Darfur he had not “adequately protected his witnesses from the Sudanese government.” Luis Moreno- Ocampo, an Argentinean lawyer started his position as first Prosecutor elected by the governing body of the ICC in June, 2003. His term ended in June of 2012 when he left to head the new FIFA’s ethics committee. There is only a Prosecutor serving the court at one time at the ICC. He/she serves for nine consecutive years and cannot be re-elected to this position.

On June 11, 2011, according to ICC court records Moreno – Ocampo was admonished by court officials for missing the deadline that would have ensured that all 59 victims of the Kenyan election violence who had applied to appear before the ICC were given the opportunity to testify in court. This was after he arrived in Nairobi swearing to the media that he would not quit until he saw that justice had been done on behalf of these victims.

And that was not his only blunder. In 2008 he tried to fire a subordinate in his office after the man accused Moreno-Ocampo of sexual misconduct. Moreno-Ocampo was eventually cleared of this charge but then had the man fired for unprofessional conduct. The staff member appealed to the internal disciplinary board at the ICC and won his case. The court found that Moreno had served on the committee that had fired the man and that had been a definite conflict of interest on Moreno- Ocampo’s part. The media spokesman was reinstated to his former position plus received a monetary settlement from the court of $181,362 (US).

Then unexpectedly on January 22, 2014 during an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) Mr. Moreno-Ocampo completely changed his story stating that” the Kenyan indictments brought by him in the name of the ICC were trumped -up charges engineered by Western diplomats who asked him to bring these indictments against Kenyatta, and Ruto to keep them from running in the 2013 Presidential elections. And as a result of this admission Ocampo revealed for the first time that despite statements to the contrary, he’d never intended to seek justice for the victims of the 2007 election violence after all but was just one more puppet working for the west that’d freely allowed the USA and Great Britain to pull his strings.

What a movie this story would make! Are Kenyatta and Ruto really guilty? We may never know. But what we do know as fact makes a certain sense when you view it as a mystery novel. Kenyan Justice Philip Waki is appointed Chair of the Commission of Inquiry into the Post- Election Violence of 2007. No one expects too much from the man or his committee. They will take their lead from President Kibaki and will not uncover any more or any less than he wishes them to discover. Eventually the commission releases a public report stating for the record that it found there was not enough evidence to support any legal indictments in this matter at this time but if more information is discovered at a later date the commission will re-convene to consider it. And it seems like the issue has finally been “put to bed” like the good citizens of Kenya had expected it would. But then something unusual happens Justice Waki surprises everyone by personally handing a sealed envelope to Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General in October 2008 during one of Amman’s visits to Nairobi. Inside this envelope rested a paper on which six names have been written- the names of the men who were behind the 2007/2008 Presidential election violence: Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, General Mohammed Hussein Ali, Francis Muthaura, Henry Kosgey, and Joshua Sang.

By July 2009 Annan hands the contents of this envelope, the names of those six men over to Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo. Ocampo declares that he will right this injustice by making an example of these six Kenyans and by December 2010 he releases the names to the media and prepares to serve each man with an indictment. After he leaves his position as prosecutor in 2012, Ms. Bensouda takes over the individual cases and all of the evidence supposedly gathered by Moreno- Ocampo. Ms. Bensouda forges ahead with her investigations and actually serves the indictments.

Then five years later Ocampo goes public once again -only this time he tells a much different story. In this second version he was never a superhero after all, and that despite all his bragging and bravado he was merely a pawn pushed around by diplomats from the USA and the UK whose only objective was to frame Kenyatta and Ruto for crimes they did not commit in order to keep them from running in the 2013 election so Raila Odinga would win. So why this change of heart- you ask? Didn’t Annan personally hand him those six names? He could claim the envelope never existed but too many people working at the ICC and living around Nairobi at that time knew that it did- including Kofi Annan. And what leverage could those diplomats possibly have had over him to make him do their bidding- he’s a citizen of Argentina? And why would an ICC prosecutor bend to their demands so easily? But I’m sure you can write the ending to this particular story. Who stands to gain the most now that Mr. Moreno- Ocampo has conveniently changed his mind? And what could he possibly stand to lose or gain by doing so? And how does Mr. Moreno-Ocampo currently spend his time?

And what about the six names on that list? Did Justice Waki make them up? I think not. I think he risked his life and those of his family when he gave those names to Annan knowing full well that his role in this matter would eventually come to light. So why did he do it?

Well, I’m praying he’s the true hero in this story, not the narcissistic Mr. Moreno-Ocampo who already admitted he was more than willing to bring false charges against innocent men. Just maybe Judge Waki is a man of real integrity who had no choice but to see that justice prevailed and that one day, no matter how far into the future, those six men would be held accountable for their criminal actions- but maybe not…..

As of January 2015 the ICC has withdrawn the indictment against Uhuru Kenyatta. The charges against Henry Kosgey and Mohammed Hussein Ali had already been dismissed in 2012 but the trials of Joshua Sang, a journalist and William Ruto, Deputy President of Kenya did begin as expected on September 9th, 2013 and continue.

And one more setback! Omar al- Bashir, President of the Republic of the Sudan proudly claimed victory over the ICC after Prosecutor Bensouda revealed in December 2014 that she was “shelving the investigation into his crimes in Darfur because of a lack of support from the United Nation Security Council.” Omar al- Bashir had been previously indicted by the court on five counts of Crimes against Humanity, three counts of Genocide, and two counts of War Crimes as a direct result of his actions in Darfur. This region of the Republic of Sudan has been decimated by violence beginning in February, 2003 when over 300,000 residents were systematically killed and another 2 million displaced from their homes then forced into refugee camps. The Republic of Sudan, especially al- Bashir, have been continuously supported by China who occupies a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council and has blocked all attempts to bring al- Bashir to justice.

According to al- Bashir, “The Sudanese people have defeated the ICC by refusing to hand over any Sudanese to the colonial courts.”

Because of withdrawals such as these the ICC’s reputation has suffered greatly among the people of Africa who question the real motive behind its formation. Is The International Criminal Court truly a global forum where victims of a cruel world can come to be heard and evil men punished for their inhumane actions or is it merely a ruse, a kangaroo court invented by the first and second world in order to placate the third?

The story continues….


Kat Nickerson                           Kingston, Rhode Island










The Trial of Jean- Pierre Bemba: A Study of Avarice

14 Apr



Jean- Pierre Bemba- Gombo is one of the richest men in all of Africa let alone the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the country in which he was born. This is hard to believe at first, seeing that the DRC had been classified by the United Nation’s Human Development Index for 2013 as one of the poorest nations in the entire world. How is it he came to accumulate such a vast fortune estimated at millions of dollars US during such an unstable period in the DRC’s history- as the country struggled through two consecutive, devastating wars? How did he manage to create and maintain personal businesses in the eastern and north –western sections of the country while over 5,000,000 people died- most as a result of war- related illnesses such as Malaria, Pneumonia, Diarrhea, and, Malnutrition? Ironically it was because of these wars that Bemba prospered, expanding both his legal and illegal businesses in the north and east while so many others lost everything: their land, their homes, their families.

By the end of the Second War in the Congo Bemba attempted to change his image by serving as a Vice President in the transitional government, a Presidential candidate in the 2006 election, and as a Member of Parliament. But his reputation would not improve so easily no matter how hard he tried to explain away his past transgressions after relocating to Kinshasa. When asked, most villagers in North Kivu Province recalled a very different Jean- Pierre Bemba. The one they remembered was a brutal warlord who used his personal army to: take their tribal lands away by force; kill and rape innocent men, women, and children; seize others’ businesses especially coffee and timber; establish lucrative diamond and hardwood smuggling operations with the countries of Uganda and the Central African Republic; and plunder his country’s natural resources at a time when his service as a patriot was desperately needed.

Ironically, Mr. Bemba was arrested in Brussels by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on May, 2008 charged with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. But these five counts had nothing at all to do with his horrendous deeds in the DRC rather they were issued as a result of offenses allegedly committed by the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) in the Central African Republic from 2002 to 2003 after having been invited there by President Ange- Felix Patasse to quell an attempted coup against him. As the recognized leader of this militia the court held Bemba personally responsible for their actions.

Bemba’s trial at The Hague began on November 22, 2010 and continues on. But the end is in sight as the court recently declared all submission of evidence suspended and ordered both the prosecution and defense teams to file their closing briefs by June 2, 2014. Meanwhile Mr. Bemba had friends and members of his defense team working on an alternate plan -an illegal one that would ensure all of the charges against him would be dropped. Eventually the ICC was made aware of this plot and arrested four men suspected of perpetrating crimes against the court. Aime- Kilolo Musamba, lawyer-lead defense council, Jean-Jacques Mangenda- Kabongo, lawyer-case manager, Fidele Babala- Wandu, Member of DRC Parliament and Deputy Secretary of the MLC, Bemba’s militia turned political party, as well as Narcisse Arido, defense witness. Each man including Bemba was charged with presenting false/forged evidence and tampering with witnesses for the prosecution. On April 2, 2014 the trial judges determined that the additional charges of presenting false or forged evidence and tampering with witnesses would be treated as a different case and tried separately.

But who is Jean- Pierre Bemba anyways? Born into a wealthy, political family in Bokata, Nord- Ubangi District, Equateur Province on November 4th, 1962 young Bemba grew up in the palatial estate of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko mingling with Belgian aristocrats. Bemba’s father, a successful businessman himself, traveled in the same social circles as Mobutu acting as his advisor when needed. It was a small, elite group of wealthy Congolese families who along with Mobutu divided their time between the Congo and Brussels so much so that Bemba’s older sister eventually married Mobutu’s son and Jean- Pierre became quite close to the former dictator as he neared the end of his tenure even serving as his personal assistant in the early 1990’s. After Mobutu had been exiled Bemba‘s father went on to serve Laurent Kabila as his Minister of the Economy and Industry in the newly- formed government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then as a senator representing Equateur Province situated in the north-western part of the country while his son did not fare as well. The First War in the Congo would last one year (1996-1997) and as a result Laurent Kabila would capture the capital city of Kinshasa and declare himself President. One year later the Second War in the Congo would erupt when Rwanda and Uganda along with Burundi would invade the DRC after Lauren Kabila refused to keep his promises to them -lucrative mining deals in exchange for their military and monetary support during the First War. Plus Rwanda discovered that Kabila had a much closer relationship with the Hutu Interhamwe then he’d admitted.

During the First War in the Congo Jean- Pierre Bemba lost his businesses plus experienced open mistrust and discrimination by Laurent Kabila and the rest of his new cabinet because of his close connection to Mobutu. But during the Second War he rebounded and by the end of the war controlled most of Northeastern Congo as well as the major smuggling route between the DRC and Central African Republic ( CAR). This was due in no small part to Uganda’s help. Bemba gradually created his own militia, the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) a local militia composed of Congolese males from the north and eastern region of the country. He soon worked out a deal with the Ugandan government: he would help Uganda gather the hardwood from Kisangani and transport it back to Kampala while in return the Ugandan army would supply, arm, and train his men. Under this transaction Bemba’s militia prospered making his force a feared name throughout North Kivu Province while at the same time Bemba began cashing in on local products from diamonds to coffee beans. According to expert witness testimony presented to the UN’s National Security Council the Second War in the Congo centered on “trade and money”. The militia that controlled the wealthiest caches of natural resources triumphed over the rest so much so that battles were no longer fought to protect the people but to control the most lucrative diamond, gold, and mineral deposits as well as secure the rights to smuggling routes across the eastern border. Eventually Uganda and Rwanda formally withdrew and the Second War in the Congo came to an end but Bemba and his militia continued their smuggling  operations as usual. According to Global Witness (2003-2004) Bemba maintained a lucrative diamond and coffee smuggling ring into the Central African Republic (CAR) using its capital city of Bangui as his base. He smuggled timber into the CAR cut from the Ituri Forest and was paid large operation fees by European hardwood companies operating in the area.

During the Second War Bemba began a deliberate campaign of terror against the local Mbuti Pygmies living in the Congo’s Ituri Forest. In 2003 Sinafore Makelo, an Mbuti pygmy, told the United Nations Indigenous Peoples Forum that during the war Mbuti pygmies were “hunted down and eaten like game animals” by the militias and that none was more deadly than the group known as the “Effaceurs” (erasers). According to Minority Rights Group International “ Les Effaceurs” were soldiers in none other than the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC), Bemba’s men who used “mass killings, cannibalism, rape, and the threat of violence” to clear the Mbuti from the forests of North Kivu Province. According to testimony provided by Bantu farmers in the area Bemba wanted the pygmies to leave the local forests where they had lived for generations so he could expand his illegal mining and logging operations without witnesses.

Once he returned from the CAR and before leaving for Kinshasa Bemba swore he’d disbanded his MLC turning it into a political party instead but he purposely kept many of his soldiers with him claiming they now served as his personal guards. It was common knowledge around North Kivu Province that the MLC continued to oversee his smuggling operations while Bemba started newer, legal business endeavors such as his airline company and television station. By 2003 he had been named Vice President of Finance and served as one of four VP’s in the new transitional government of Joseph Kabila. He challenged Joseph Kabila by running for President in the 2006 election where he came in second then after a final face-off between the two candidates lost the election.

And then things became dangerously unclear. Mr. Bemba claimed that Joseph Kabila had used fraud to win the election but then said he would “bow out gracefully for the good of the country.” At the same time he did not attend the swearing–in ceremony nor did he give Kabila his official endorsement as President of the DRC. Yet by 2007 he had succeeded in winning a seat in Parliament as a Senator representing the capital city, Kinshasa.

It was common knowledge that Bemba housed many MLC members at his residence in Kinshasa who served as security guards. On March 22, 2007 a fight broke out between these guards and soldiers in the Congolese Army. It seems Bemba’s guards had been ordered by the government to register at a local military base where they would be eventually absorbed into the Congolese army but Bemba claimed these men served as his personal guard and for reasons of security would remain with him. Soldiers in the Congolese army showed up at Bemba’s house then tried to take his “body guards” into custody. The guards refused and started shooting at the soldiers. Although government reports were deliberately vague on the matter, eye- witness accounts around Kinshasa maintained that hundreds of Bemba’s soldiers flooded the streets resulting in open fire fights between them and Congolese troops. Many witnesses became convinced that Bemba was staging a coup in order to seize control of the government buildings. Eventually government forces brought the city under control as Bemba’s men suddenly began withdrawing from the streets. Although the government made no public announcement about the battle between the two sides and at no time referred to the fighting as a coup reports of over six hundred wounded or dead were filed by local hospitals and news agencies around the city. Meanwhile Bemba and his family fled to the South African embassy where he asked for and was granted asylum. One day later, on March 23, 2007 an arrest warrant was issued by the government charging Bemba with high treason. Bemba responded by blaming Kabila saying that the government soldiers had been sent to his home to kill him and that his body guards had only been defending him.

On March 26, 2007 the President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila charged Bemba with using his militia to seize control of the capital city of Kinshasa. Bemba denied these charges claiming that his only goal was to leave the country safely in spite of the thwarted assassination attempt on his life. But before he left the country Bemba ordered the members of his militia to comply with the government’s orders and hundreds of his men registered then were integrated into the Congolese army without incurring any punitive charges.

During April, 2007 Bemba and his family lived in Portugal. While there he continued to talk openly about his fear of reprisal from Kabila’s government and the fact that he planned to return to the DRC to take up his senate seat in Parliament. But by June, 2007 he was still traveling throughout Europe claiming that he feared for his life if he returned to Kinshasa.

One year later on May 24, 2008, Bemba was arrested near Brussels and surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 3. 2008 where he was immediately held in its detention center at The Hague. Before leaving he informed local reporters that these were false charges engineered by Joseph Kabila in order to discredit his good name and prevent him from serving as a politician in the DRC ever again.

Jean- Pierre Bemba Gombo  is a highly dangerous man and not just because of his crimes. It is his ambition that worries me most due to the fact that he has an unlimited supply of money at his disposal with which to buy his way in and out of any situation. My hope is that the ICC will sentence him to prison for a very long time and take his money away in the process. There is more than enough evidence on record to prove that the bulk of his wealth was amassed through illegal means and really belongs to the people of the DRC. And like I have warned many times in the past until the natural resources of the Congo are protected and regulated by an outside, impartial enforcement group such as the United Nations the lives of rural villagers in the east will never improve. Unfortunately, for every warlord and militia group arrested another man and his minions will come forward to take their place. There’s just too much money to be made not to take this chance.

Kat Nickerson                                                             Kingston,  Rhode Island, USA

Bosco Ntaganda: A New Twist to an Old Story

16 Apr

Bosco Ntaganda 2013

New York Times Pool photo by Peter Dejong, March, 2013

On the third Tuesday of March, 2013 former Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda 39, calmly introduced himself to the military personal guarding the gates of the American Embassy located in the capital city of Kigali, Rwanda then asked to be escorted to the office of the highest ranking U. S. official on duty that day where he surrendered himself over to the United States government to face the charges that had been leveled against him by the lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although neither the United States of America nor the country of Rwanda are participating members in the ICC, both countries assumed responsibility for his safety then arranged to have him flown to The Hague, Netherlands where he was immediately transferred over to a special security detail sent by the ICC as soon as he landed.

The question of the hour is why? Why would Bosco Ntaganda freely relinquish his freedom after years of flagrantly ignoring the indictments that had been leveled against him by the ICC during 2006 and again in 2012? The ICC had charged Ntaganda with crimes against humanity during his tenure as a commander in different Tutsi militias, specifically for his actions during the Second War in the Congo ( 2002-2003). The 2012 indictment charged him with murder, rape, pillaging, sexual slavery, and the conscription of child soldiers. Although to be fair, Ntaganda was not the first Congolese rebel leader to use children as soldiers.  Laurent Desire Kabila, father of the current president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila was the first to conscript child soldiers to fight in his revolution to overthrow the Congolese dictator Mobuto  and his “kadogos” played a crucial role in the battles that brought Kabila to Kinsasha finally placing him in the Presidential palace. These child troops led by the dynamic young leader, Anselme Masau helped make it possible for Kabila to declare himself President of the newly named  Democratic Republic of the Congo which had been previously called Zaire.

Ntaganda first distinguished himself as a master of terror while in the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC) and again while in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) where as Chief of Military Operations he became famous for his methods used to recruit and keep child soldiers in these militias. He demonstrated a real talent for terrorizing villagers and making non-combatants submissive. His use of force in the form of rape, torture, and murder of innocent civilians was legendary during the Second War in the Congo and he was not above stealing their meager possessions in order to personally profit from their suffering. Ntaganda’s fellow militia commander Thomas Lubanga had already been found guilty by the ICC during his summer 2012 trial of conscripting child soldiers into his rebel army ( 2002-2003) and is currently serving an eight year prison sentence for this crime.

Rumors and speculation abound, some more plausible than others. Ntaganda had openly lived in Goma, a large Congolese city near the border between the DR Congo and Rwanda or on his farm in Maisisi, North Kivu since the Second War in the Congo had ended. There he enjoyed a life of leisure while cultivating an image as a warlord and demonstrated time and again that he was exceptionally good at making money. He owned shares in several illegal mining operations throughout  Ituri District and made vast sums of money  engaging in various, sorted extortion and illegal taxation schemes which eventually made him a very wealthy man- some say a millionaire in his own right. So why wouldn’t he have fled to cosmopolitan Johannesburg, South Africa where money can  purchase a great deal of anonymity or to Dubai where total exclusivity can be had for the right price? He seemed to have squirreled away enough money to ensure himself a life of luxury as an expatriate, so why didn’t he take the far easier route and run?

Well some say that the United States had placed a huge international bounty on his head making his chances of survival slim to none, thus giving him no choice but to turn himself in. Others say that the United States had put tremendous pressure on Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and great friend to the United States Government, to cut all ties with Ntaganda even though he unofficially remained a soldier in the Rwandan army and never stopped carrying out Kagame’s orders. Others state that Joseph Kabila, President of the DR Congo after sheltering Ntaganda for years possibly because he did not want to alienate Rwanda announced in April of 2012 that he was considering arresting Ntaganda on the ICC’s charges but had considered trying him in the DR Congo instead of the Netherlands. And then there is M23, a Rwandan- supported rebel group operating in the Congo, who some say ousted Ntaganda from their ranks and swore to kill him if he returned with any of the 700 men still loyal to him.

This rebel movement composed of Congolese soldiers of the Tutsi ethnic group deserted their posts in April of 2012 and began fighting against the current president, Joseph Kabila and his government.  They have managed take over a good portion of Maisisi region from Goma to Sake from the Congolese Army and claim that their mission is to improve conditions for the citizens of the DR Congo by forcing Kabila to give into their demands but they seem to be doing this mainly for the people of the northeast region of the country namely the Tutsi who continue to face discrimination in North and South Kivu.

But this is an old story with basically the same cast of characters and some say that the present rebellion is no more than a continuation of the Second War in the Congo when the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda entered the DR Congo illegally and refused to leave. There is irrefutable evidence that neither government ever departed the northeastern region of the Congo and that both continue to profit from illegally operated mines and the sale of conflict minerals. But for Rwanda, there is a much greater objective and that is the annihilation of the Hutu “Interahamwe”. Many claim that Laurent Kabila gave many of these Hutu extremists asylum in northeastern Congo after an estimated two million of them fled to surrounding countries once the Tutsi freedom fighters (RFP) had taken back the government of Rwanda in 1994. Rumors also attested to the fact that Kabila owed these Hutu militias for helping him oust Mobutu and assume the Presidency of the DR Congo. Rwanda who had also helped Kabila secure his position as president requested permission to enter the DR Congo to hunt down the Hutu rebels but although Rwandan soldiers did so for a time, they were subsequently denied permission to “cleanse the area of all “Interahamwe”. The descendants of these “Interahamwe” still exist in North and South Kivu and Paul Kagame will not rest until every last one of them has been killed. And so M23’s agenda is also the Rwandan agenda and even the United Nations has irrefutable evidence that Rwanda with Uganda’s help has been supporting the M23 Movement.

One only has to reread the history of Laurent Nkunda to understand how Rwanda has had and still has only two goals: it will not leave the Congo alone until the “Interahamwe” are destroyed for good and until the Tutsi have been properly accepted into Congolese society.

Nkunda began his career as a soldier by joining the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) helping to overthrown the Hutu government responsible for the Rwandan Genocide. Then he returned to the Congo and joined Laurent Kabila during the First War in the Congo (1996-1998)  helping him become President of the DR Congo.

By the Second War (200-2003) Nkunda had been promoted to major in the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) a Tutsi militia supported by Rwanda. By 2004 once the wars had ended, Nkunda had risen to the rank of general in the Congolese Army but soon resented his treatment and those of his fellow Tutsi serving in the ranks so he and his men deserted their posts in North Kivu District and fled into the rural areas of Masisi. This became known as the Kivu Conflict and Nkunda claimed that he had no choice but to defend the Tutsi residing in the region who were being murdered by the Hutu rebels living there as well

By August 2007, Nkunda controlled most of the territory in Masisi and Rutshuru and had formed his own Tutsi militia he called the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Word on the street was that his militia was being financed by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.

By 2008, Nkunda advanced on Goma, a large city near the Rwandan- Congo border where he led his fighters against the Congolese army and United Nations troops. The recent fighting displaced around 200,000 civilians, bringing the total number of civilians uprooted by the Kivu Conflict to around 2 million diseased and starving residents of the northeast region of the Congo. Nkunda swore that he would not stop until President, Joseph Kabila accepted his commands.

Although Nkunda had been accused of crimes against humanity especially in his recruitment of child soldiers he firmly denied this allegation stating that he did not advocate the use of child soldiers and had sent them home when he had been given the opportunity to do so. And them something happened – it Joseph Kabila did not reach an agreement with Nkunda but had been negotiating with Paul Kagame instead. Kabila’s demand: If Nkunda was removed from the leadership of the CNDP then Rwandan soldiers would be allowed into the DRC to destroy the Hutu “Interahamwe”  once again”. Now a lot of people believed that Nkunda had only been following Kagame’s directives in the first place and after M23’s similar demands this seems very likely.

And then who took over the leadership of the CNDP but Bosco Ntaganda! Some accounts maintain that he usurped leadership of the militia but that was totally untrue.  The CNDP was a Rwandan militia through and though -supported and operated by the country of Rwanda. Both Nkunda and Ntaganda remained soldiers in the Rwandan Army and did only what Kagame  ordered.

Laurent Nkunda was arrested four years ago by the Rwandan Army in 2009 after he had crossed into Rwanda but he has yet to be charged with any crime by a Rwandan military court. He had been under secret house arrest since that day but many feel that he is free man in Rwanda and even acts as a military advisor to the President of Rwanda concerning DR Congo affairs. The Rwandan government has continually refused to hand over Nkunda to the Congolese courts even though the DR Congo had issued an international warrant for his arrest. The Rwandan government had substantiated the fact that Nkunda remained a Rwandan soldier by ruling in 2010 that Nkunda could only be tried by a military court. They gave the reason that this was because the military had been responsible for his apprehension but that claim would only be accepted by the court if he was considered to be a legitimate soldier in the Rwandan army in the first place.

But the plot continues to thicken. Who was it who also fought alongside Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda during the North Kivu Conflict? Why it was Colonel Sultani Makenga also accused of having committed crimes against humanity by massacring 67civilians in Kiwandja, North Kivu during the Kivu Conflict. This is the same Colonel Sultani Makenga who  now leads of the M23 troops. And predictably he professes the  same concerns as Nkunda for the safety of the Tutsi in the Congo and is waging the same war against the  Hutu “Interahamwe” as Nkunda did. Now from where did he receive his marching orders and his money?

One thing is certain, at some point Ntaganda became an unavoidable embarrassment to Paul Kagame but has Rwanda deserted him for good? This remains to be seen but based on Rwanda’s treatment of Nkunda- maybe not? Is M23 against Ntaganda or is this all just an act in order to distance themselves from his despicable reputation- maybe so? Ntaganda entered the courtroom a humble man on the first day of his trial, the decorated officer now wore the reserved, black suit of a European gentleman- far from the boisterous warlord and brutal militia commander responsible for carrying out the heinous charges that had been leveled against him.

He was not asked to enter a plea on the first day of his trial but stated for the record anyways, “I was informed of the crimes but I am not guilty.”

When Judge Trendafileva asked him to state his profession, he answered, “I was a soldier in the Congo.” Maybe had he replied, “I was a Rwandan soldier operating under orders in the DR Congo .”- he might have come somewhat closer to the truth of the matter.

Kat Nickerson                       Kingston         R.I.                  USA