12:33, July 08 35 0 theguardian.com

2019-07-08 12:33:04
A brutal warlord has been convicted – so why doesn’t it feel like a triumph?

In 2015, the international community – led by the US and the UK – finally decided to take Bosco Ntaganda to the international criminal court to face justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ntaganda, known as “The Terminator”, became one of the most feared, powerful and brutal warlords in DRC since Rwanda, backed by Uganda, reinvaded DRC in 1998.

Today in The Hague, the ICC found him guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Ituri province in 2002 and 2003. His atrocities included a mass killing – and the rape and sexual slavery of underage girls.

It should have been a day of triumph – especially for victims and many people like me who have been campaigning to end DRC’s culture of near impunity, and for a new era of peace, prosperity and democracy. But it doesn’t feel like that, at least not for the Congolese people. In fact Ntaganda’s arrest, transfer, trial and conviction has left us with more questions than answers.

Ntaganda, born in Kinigi in Rwanda, had his first taste of combat in Uganda, where he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1990 at the age of 17 and fought alongside Paul Kagame to overthrow Rwanda’s genocidal regime in 1994.

Following clashes between Rwanda and Uganda in the late 1990s, Ntaganda joined a Ugandan–backed militia group in the Ituri region of the DRC – and it’s here that he made his name. He was known by locals for his violence and brutality, which made him an appealing figure to the Rwandan regime. He was rehired by Kagame and launched a new militia group, the NCDP.

By 2008, according to the International Rescue Committee, more than 5.4 million Congolese had been killed in the wars raging in the region for the past decade, and policymakers in the UK and the US wanted an end to the killing. But in 2009 Ntaganda rebranded his militia group as M23 and began a new killing spree in the North Kivu region of DRC.

It was not until M23 overran UN peacekeepers in the city of Goma in August 2013 that then US president, Barack Obama, with Britain and France, decided that Ntaganda had to go – a damning indictment of just how much the international community cared about Congolese people themselves.

The ICC had issued its first arrest warrant against Ntaganda for war crimes in Ituri in 2006. Why wasn’t he arrested then? Why was he allowed to evade justice and to continue to kill, rape, displace and destroy families, villages and communities for another seven years? He wasn’t in hiding. Even I, living in London, knew exactly where he played tennis in Goma and how often he played – within sight of the UN’s 18,000 troops in the region.

Ntaganda’s crimes were never committed at random. They were always systematic, almost always premeditated; and, after Ituri, Ntaganda continued to target communities in North and South Kivu. Why didn’t the ICC, which had been investigating Congo since 2004, add more charges?

Ntaganda’s commanders, patrons and enablers still hold high office in Uganda, DRC and Rwanda – and many continue to obstruct DRC’s path to peace, democracy and development. One of them is Kagame’s protege and Rwanda’s former defence minister, James Kaberebe, who the UN said in a 2012 report was actually the de facto commander of M23, a charge he denies. When will the ICC issue further arrest warrants in the struggle for peace in the DRC?

Ntaganda did indeed commit the killings – but to us Congolese, he did so in large part because the world seems to care so little about Congolese lives.

Vava Tampa, who is Congolese, is the founder of Save the Congo, a London-based campaign for human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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