IBA welcomes voluntary surrender and appearance of Bosco Ntaganda before International Criminal Court

The International Bar Association (IBA) welcomes the voluntary surrender and first appearance of Bosco Ntaganda before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mark Ellis, IBA Executive Director, commented: ‘Mr Ntaganda’s voluntary surrender to the ICC facilitated by American, Rwandan and Dutch authorities, signals confidence in the ICC’s ability to deliver fair and impartial justice, and is an encouraging sign of the collective will of States, including those who are not yet members of the Court, to cooperate with the ICC in its fight against impunity.

Mr Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese citizen, surrendered himself voluntarily to the United States Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda and was subsequently transferred to the ICC on 22 March 2013. Two arrest warrants had been issued by the ICC for Mr Ntaganda, in 2006 and subsequently in 2012, charging him with seven counts of war crimes (enlistment and conscription of children under the age of 15, and, using children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities, murder, attacks against the civilian population, rape and sexual slavery and pillaging) and three counts of crimes against humanity (murder, rape and sexual slavery and persecution) allegedly committed in Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo between 1 September 2002 and the end of September 2003. He was initially charged jointly with Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, but as Mr Ntaganda was still at large, Mr Lubanga’s trial proceeded and he was convicted and sentenced in 2012.

Dr Ellis added: ‘The circumstances of Mr Ntaganda’s surrender and appearance before the ICC speak volumes about the pre-eminence of the Court as a leading international judicial institution. However, the Court can hope for but cannot rely on voluntary surrender by suspects who remain at large. The momentum from this development should encourage the international community to develop effective strategies to address other long outstanding ICC arrest warrants.’ 

Mr Ntaganda made his initial appearance before the ICC on 26 March, days after his transfer to The Hague. The confirmation of charges hearing is scheduled for 23 September 2013. The ICC has organised a hearing on 15 April to discuss procedural matters, including the disclosure of evidence to the defence.

Lorraine Smith van Lin, IBA ICC Programme Manager notes: ‘The level of cooperation to secure Mr Ntaganda’s safe transfer to The Hague and delivery to the ICC was encouraging, but is only the beginning. Sustained cooperation by States is not only necessary to secure the arrest and surrender of ICC suspects, but is crucial throughout the proceedings, with both the Prosecution and the defence, in order to ensure fair, efficient and effective trials at the ICC.’

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Lorraine Smith-van Lin
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Email: Lorraine.smithvanlin@int-bar.org
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Notes to the Editor
Bosco Ntaganda was born in 1973 in Rwanda. During the 1994 Tutsi massacre in Rwanda he fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo and joined rebel groups at age 17. He has since fought in a number of rebel organisations as well as the Congolese army. Prosecutors allege that he was the chief of operation of the Union of Congolese Patriots and its armed wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, which led a military campaign to establish political and military domination for the Hema tribe over the Ituri region. Mr Ntaganda joined the Congolese army in 2009 as a general after a peace deal was concluded which integrated his faction into the military. Most recently, he was believed to be one of the leaders of M23, a rebel movement fighting government troops.

The first arrest warrant for Mr Ntaganda was issued in 2006 and included 3 charges of enlisting and conscripting child soldiers and using them to commit hostilities.  In 2012, a second arrest warrant was issued by the ICC, charging him with four counts of war crimes, namely: murder, attack against the civilian population, rape and sexual slavery, pillaging and three counts of crimes against humanity, namely: murder, rape and sexual slavery and persecution on the basis of his individual criminal responsibility as an indirect co-perpetrator under Article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute.

Mr Ntaganda surrendered to the US Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda on 22 March 2013 following his defection from the Congolese army. Questions on why Mr Ntaganda was prompted to surrender at the US Embassy remain largely unanswered. The US Embassy declined to give an answer and said that it was a matter for Mr Ntaganda to explain during the trial.

In his first appearance before Pre-Trial Chamber II, Mr Ntaganda confirmed that he preferred to speak Kinyarwanda, one of the official languages in Rwanda. He pled not guilty to the charges, although the Presiding Judge, Judge Trendafilova, reminded him that during the first appearance hearing it was not necessary to enter a plea to the charges. Mr Ntaganda is represented by Mr Hassane Bel Lakhdar, a member of the Parisian bar, who was assisted by the Office of Public Counsel for the Defence at the ICC. Counsel for the Defence complained that he had not had sufficient time to speak to his client prior to the start of the hearing and also informed the Presiding Judge that he would apply for Mr Ntaganda to be released pending his trial. The confirmation hearings are set to begin on 23 September 2013. The next hearing is scheduled for 15 April 2013.