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Ntaganda trial opens in The Hague

Jane Ayeko-KümmethSeptember 1, 2015

The trial of Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda starts on Wednesday at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Former child soldiers will give evidence.

Bosco Ntaganda in the ICC courtroom in 2014
Image: Reuters

Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner is the International Justice Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW). DW spoke to her on the eve of the long-awaited trial in The Hague of Bosco Ntaganda. He faces 18 charges, including the rape of child soldiers by his rebel army. Ntaganda turned himself in in March 2013. Prosecutors say he played a central role in ethnic attacks on civilians in 2002 - 2003, in a conflict which civil rights groups believe cost some 60,000 lives since 1999.

DW: Why is this trial so important?

Geraldine Mattioli Zeltner: I think this trial is very significant because it has taken a very long time for Bosco Ntaganda to arrive in The Hague, actually more than 10 years. Human Rights Watch documented very serious crimes committed by the troops under Ntaganda's orders since the beginning of the year 2000 in eastern Congo, first in Ituri and then in the Kivu provinces. So it has taken a long time but we hope that the opening of this trial on Wednesday and seeing him in The Hague facing justice will send a signal to others involved in serious crimes in Congo that justice will catch up with them one day.

There have been claims that DRC neighbors, especially Uganda and Rwanda, have been fuelling the conflict in eastern DRC. How true is this and, if so, how come no one from these countries has been implicated?

It's a reality that in eastern Congo many rebel groups have received support - arms and training - from military and political officials in Rwanda and Uganda but also in the capital of Congo, Kinshasa. There has been a lot of interest of course in the wealth of the country, in eastern Congo, in the minerals that are there. And that has led these officials to support the militias battling in eastern Congo. At Human Rights Watch we have documented such support, both in Ituri and Kivu, and we believe that, to stop the cycle of violence in eastern Congo, it is very important that the ICC prosecutor investigates the role of those who support, arm and train the militias there.

Mr Ntaganda is being prosecuted for alleged crimes committed between 2002 and 2003 when he was a member of the Union of Congolese Patriots. What about other crimes committed by the M23 under his supervision?

This is a regret we have, that he is not being prosecuted for more alleged crimes committed by his troops. As I said, HRW has documented crimes since the beginning of the year 2000, throughout 2003, when he was involved with his latest armed group, the M23. When he left Ituri in 2006, he became involved with another rebel group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People, and after that he was integrated into the Congolese army. Throughout that entire time, Human Rights Watch documented very serious crimes against civilians committed by his troops and we have called on the ICC prosecutor to add charges. In 2012 and 2013 the ICC prosecutor added charges for other crimes committed in Ituri because he was initially only prosecuted for the recruitment of child soldiers and he is now prosecuted for a wider range of crimes. But it has not been possible for the ICC prosecutor to add crimes committed in the Kivus. So we hope that other commanders of the M23 will be prosecuted, maybe in Congo or maybe in neighboring countries where they find refuge.

What does this trial mean for the victims back in Congo?

Bosco Ntaganda used to roam the streets of Goma enjoying impunity, despite the ICC arrest warrant against him. I think for the victims it will be the signal that justice will be done for their suffering.

Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner is the International Justice Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch

Interview: Jane Ayeko-Kümmeth