International Tribunal Upholds Conviction of Congolese Warlord

Known as “the Terminator,” Bosco Ntaganda’s 2019 conviction earned him the longest sentence ever given in the history of the International Criminal Court. 

Bosco Ntaganda appears at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday as the Appeals Chamber confirms the 2019 verdict that found him guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed in Ituri, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2002-2003. (Image courtesy of ICC via Courthouse News)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Bosco Ntaganda was unmoving Tuesday, with hands folded in front of him, as International Criminal Court judges dismissed the former militia leader’s appeal of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Ntaganda brought 15 appeals to both his July 2019 conviction and sentence, claiming his right to a fair trial was violated in the three-year-long proceedings that made him became the fourth person to be convicted by the ICC.

When announcing his 30-year sentence, a record for the court, Presiding Judge Robert Fremr noted some of Ntaganda’s especially heinous crimes during his tenure as the military chief of the Union of Congolese Patriots militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2002 to 2003. 

The court had found Ntaganda guilty of 18 counts of murder, rape, torture and the use of child soldiers. Fremr noted that he had raped a 15-year-old girl who was acting as one of his bodyguards and also captured a priest and three nuns. Ntaganda murdered the priest and ordered his troops to rape the nuns, who survived but refuse to speak of the experience. 

On appeal, Ntaganda claimed, among other things, that he was unaware child soldiers had been conscripted. 

“The Appeals Chamber confirms, by majority, the Conviction Decision and rejects the appeals lodged by Mr Ntaganda,” Judge Howard Morrison told the Hague-based courtroom Tuesday.

The decision is final and cannot be appealed. 

Nicknamed The Terminator, Ntaganda was born in Rwanda in 1973 but moved to the DRC after attacks on fellow ethnic Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Ntaganda argued that his experience during the genocide should have mitigated his sentence but the appeals court disagreed. “It was reasonable for the trial chamber to find that his personal experience did not diminish his culpability given his conduct and the gravity of his crimes,” Judge Morrison said. 

The 47-year-old would go on to serve as a General in the Congolese army, despite the ICC issuing two arrest warrants for him, first in 2006 and again in 2012. Created by the Rome Statute in 2002, the court is the world’s only permanent court of atrocity crimes but lacks an enforcement mechanism and relies on member states to hand over suspects. 

(Image courtesy of ICC via Courthouse News)

Ntaganda defected from the army to form another militia group, which has also been accused of committing war crimes. He turned himself into the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda in 2012 and asked to be transferred to the ICC, the first suspect to ever do so. Though he has not indicated why he chose to surrender, Al Jazeera reported in 2013 that there was violent infighting within his group. 

The prosecution also appealed the two counts of the conviction, arguing that Ntaganda should have also been found guilty of several other crimes with which he was charged. The appeals court rejected both of those requests as well. 

Like Ntaganda’s sentence, the reparations award for his victims was also record breaking. In March, he was ordered to pay $30 million in compensation. He’s not expected to pay any of that penalty himself; he was declared indigent by the court. Instead the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims will arrange for compensation.

Ntaganda is not the only person charged with war crimes in the DRC conflict. Its founder, Thomas Lubanga, became the first person to be convicted by the court in 2012. He was released in 2020 after serving a 14-year sentence for similar crimes. A third war criminal, Germain Katanga, former chief of staff of the Patriotic Force of Resistance, another militia group, was sentenced to 12 years in jail for attacks on civilians. A fourth militia leader, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, was acquitted in 2012.

Though a peace agreement was signed in 2003 in the DRC, the area remains unstable. The Italian ambassador to the country was killed last month when the United Nations convoy he was traveling with was attacked by militant groups. An estimated 5.4 million people have died in the conflict.

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