THE HAGUE, Mar 26 – Congolese war crimes suspect Bosco Ntaganda will appear before International Criminal Court judges for the first time on Tuesday, after dramatically turning himself in to face charges ranging from murder and rape to using child soldiers.
The first ever suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC, Ntaganda is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed a decade ago when he was a warlord in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The man known as “The Terminator” was transferred to The Hague late on Friday after walking into the US embassy in Kigali a week ago to ask to be sent to the Hague-based court.
When he makes his brief initial appearance at 11am (1000 GMT), judges will verify Ntaganda’s identity, read the alleged crimes and his rights under the court’s founding document, the Rome Statute.
The judges, in the presence of his lawyer, will verify that Ntaganda can follow the hearings in a language he understands.
Presiding Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova will also set a date for a hearing to confirm the charges against Ntaganda, who was allegedly involved in the murder of at least 800 people in villages in the volatile DR Congo’s Ituri region.
At that next hearing, not expected for several months, prosecutors must convince the court’s judges they have enough evidence to take him to trial.
Set up just over a decade ago, the ICC is the world’s only permanent criminal court to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Ntaganda faces seven war crimes counts and three counts of crimes against humanity: they include murder, rape and using child soldiers in his rebel army as well as keeping women as sex-slaves between September 2002 and September 2003.
He was taken into custody in Kigali and flown to Rotterdam airport on Friday, since when he has been held at the ICC’s detention unit in The Hague’s seaside suburb of Scheveningen.
Born in 1973, Ntaganda is the fifth African in the ICC’s custody and the court first issued an arrest warrant against him in 2006.
Ntaganda, more than six feet tall, is a charismatic figure.
Until his unexpected appearance in Kigali last week, he had been “flaunting his impunity like a medal of honour while engaging in ruthless human rights abuses,” as Human Rights Watch’s senior Africa researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg put it.
Once a top commander of the DR Congo’s M23 rebels, Ntaganda is believed to have crossed into Rwanda at the weekend along with several hundred fighters after they suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a rival rebel faction.
Ntaganda is believed to have been instrumental in the M23 mutiny from the Congolese army in April last year after the collapse of a peace deal that had integrated rebels into the regular army.