Just a month before his departure, scheduled for June 15, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), made two last-minute decisions concerning the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
By Benjamin Bibas, Paris
Firstly, Ocampo has asked the ICC judges to add three charges of crimes against humanity and four charges of war crimes to the arrest warrant for rebel chief Bosco Ntaganda – which was first issued in 2006 – for his alleged activities in Ituri (northeastern DRC) within the Forces patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC) in 2002 and 2003.
In so doing, Ocampo is trying to present a much heftier case against Ntaganda than the one that led to the conviction of his former boss in the FPLC Thomas Lubanga, who was found guilty of recruiting child soldiers in March. At the same time, however, Ocampo carefully avoids any mention of Ntaganda’s activities in the Kivus (eastern DRC) with the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), a murderous militia active between 2006 and 2009.
Secondly, the chief prosecutor requested an arrest warrant for Sylvestre Mudacumura, the supreme commander of the Forces démocratiques de libération de Rwanda (FDLR), a political and military movement composed of Rwandan Hutus and active in the Kivu provinces since 1994. Judges rejected that request just two weeks later, on 31 May [see page 2].
Bosco Ntaganda, born in 1973 to Rwandan parents, was one of the leaders of the FPLC, which under Lubanga, spread terror throughout Ituri up to September 2003. After that, Ntaganda took over the leadership of the CNDP alongside Laurent Nkunda, another rebel chief, who fled to Rwanda in January 2009. Then, Ntaganda and his troops were integrated into the DRC’s regular army (Forces armées régulières - FARDC), where he became a Congolese army general – despite being indicted by the ICC for the use of child soldiers. Ntaganda has sought refuge in the bush again since April last year, and has lately been seen many times in Rwanda. But despite the expanded charges Ocampo recently filed against him, Ntaganda is still accused only of crimes committed in Ituri, which are according to Human Rights Watch, only a minor part of his actions.
Ntaganda and Kabila, brothers in arms
The reason why the prosecutor chose to avoid charging Ntaganda with a wider scope of criminal responsibilities can be simple - the ICC needs the cooperation of DRC president Joseph Kabila, to operate in the country. Kabila and Bosco Ntaganda “are brothers in arms. They fought together in Rwandan battalions in the 1990s, during the DRC’s civil wars,” recalls an intelligence source in Kinshasa who has extensive knowledge of Ituri and the DRC’s political and military situation. “The two men continue to communicate discreetly with one another, mostly in Kinyarwanda,” the source adds.
But not only has Ntaganda maintained ties with Kabila – at least until recently, following strong international pressure on Kinshasa – he also has support within the Rwandan government, whose political and military elites have profited from mineral trafficking from the Kivus by the CNDP until January 2009. There was also trafficking out of the Maniema and Katanga regions by CNDP units who had been integrated into the FARDC. Therefore there is no realistic way for the ICC to get Ntaganda arrested without an informal green light from Kigali.
Ocampo can be seen as having a three-pronged strategy for Ntaganda: to bolster the charges against him to increase diplomatic and media expectations. Also, to accuse him only of crimes committed in Ituri between 2002 and 2003, where the Rwandan army was less involved than it was in the Kivus. And, following the release of Callixte Mbarushimana last year, to indict a second FDLR leader, thereby assuring the good will of the Kigali government, of which the FDLR is a sworn enemy.
This strategy, strongly oriented as it is towards Kigali, is understandable. According to a December 2011 report on the DRC by a group of UN consultants, Joseph Kabila owes his re-election to a series of suspicious phenomena, including multiple armed robberies and fraud in the Kivus by former CNDP combatants led by Ntaganda. And according to another, more recent UN report, fighters led by Ntaganda who left the FARDC in April are seeking refuge in Rwanda where they are given arms.
Ocampo wanted to show in the month leading up to his departure that, following the Lubanga verdict and the closure of the second Congolese trial (Katanga and Ngudjolo), the ICC is not at an impasse in DRC. He pointed out that if the ICC’s cases in eastern DRC are to move forward, their progress depends partly on the goodwill of Kigali. Rwandan prosecutor Martin Ngoga may continue to turn up the heat – he was reported by a local newspaper last week as saying that charging the FDLR’s Mudacumura was “insufficient”.