With a nickname like ‘The Terminator” and comparisons to Joseph Kony, it’s amazing how little press the upcoming trial of Bosco Ntaganda has gotten so far. A Rwandan and Congolese citizen, he grew up in a small village in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountain Range. An ethnic Tutsi, he fled his village for the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in the early 1990s when violence broke out in Rwanda.
In 1994 he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front that led to the overthrow of the Hutu-backed government during the Rwandan genocide. It was here he had his first taste of battle, one that was approved of by the international media and nearby governments.
Not content to stay still, Bosco, who has been described as “having a beautiful smile,” joined one paramilitary group after another. As his clout grew, and promotions came his way, startling stories began to arise out of the dense Congolese jungles. Human Rights Watch documented hundreds of chilling tales that accused Ntaganda of rape, slavery, torture, murder and ethnic cleansing.
Calls from activists to send Ntaganda to the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague began to grow. “Ntaganda has a track record of inflicting unbearable suffering on civilians in Eastern Congo…The ICC should charge him with the full range of the crimes for which he is responsible, allowing his victims the justice they desperately seek,” said one HRW observer.
Yet despite a well documented record of slaughter and recruiting child soldiers, there were some protections in place for Ntaganda. As he rose to the rank of general, his paramilitary unit was drafted under the official army of the DRC. It was then that the Congolese government (and to some extent the Rwandan government) saw him as a necessity for keeping peace (and by peace, they mean power) in the region.
Ultimately, Ntaganda refused the post in the Congolese army and instead headed for an area known as North Kivu. Here, he continued committing crimes and atrocities. Some of the records show that sexual slavery, the sexual slavery of child soldiers, and torture were just some of his regular activities.
Yet he was still seen as a legitimate general to both the Congolese and Rwandan side. Despite activists calling for his arrests, the ICC actually putting a warrant out for this arrest, and the UN putting travel bans in place, he lived openly in the Eastern DRC town of Goma, with people able to point to his house on Avenue des Tulipiés. He also managed two mines, five gas stations and smuggled minerals with regularity over the Rwandan border.
In fact, during the travel ban, it is said he actually moved quite freely between Rwanda and the DRC at least two times. According to a UN meeting of experts from December 2, 2011, both Congolese and Rwandan officials knew about the incident, but had decided that, “Bosco contributes to peace and security to the region, which converges with Rwanda’s aims.”
Really, it wasn’t until 2012, when Bosco and the couple of hundred troops that remained loyal to him clashed with government troops that the wheels to his demise started to turn. The President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, called for his arrest and he was finally branded as an enemy.
Bizarrely enough, on March 18, 2013, Bosco Ntaganda showed up, seemingly out of the blue, at the American Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. It was here that he asked to be transferred to The Hague and taken to trial for his war crimes. Although there has been plenty of speculation as to why he decided to turn himself in, with some claiming his troops turned against him, and others claiming he lost support of the Rwandan side, in the end, nobody is really sure.
Bosco Ntaganda will now be standing trial for his crimes against the people of the DRC. Although he has claimed his innocence, there is ample evidence that puts him clearly in charge during multiple massacres and hundreds of rapes. Although many activists hope that his trial sets an important precedence for war criminals still at large in the DRC, some are more skeptical, noting that if Ntaganda hadn’t turned himself in, would he even have been apprehended? Information on his hearing dates, charges, and court papers can be found at the ICC website.