THE HAGUE, Feb 10 – Former warlord Bosco Ntaganda played a “key role” in ethnic crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, using child soldiers and capturing sex slaves for his rebel army, the International Criminal Court heard on Monday.
The man known as “The Terminator” appeared at The Hague-based court where judges will decide if there is enough evidence to charge him for crimes committed in the central African country a decade ago.
“Bosco Ntaganda… prosecuted civilians on ethnic grounds through deliberate attacks, forced displacement, murder, rape, sexual enslavement and pillaging,” ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges at the pre-trial hearing.
She has five days to persuade the judges that he should be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed by Ntaganda’s rebel army in the DR Congo’s restive east in 2002-3.
“Bosco Ntaganda’s role was central to this army. He was the… military commander in charge of operations,” said Bensouda. “He personally used child soldiers in attacks.”
Prosecutors allege that Ntaganda, who handed himself in to face charges in a shock move last year, led “by negative example”, raping child and women soldiers and keeping them as sex slaves.
This “communicated a message of official approval and further contributed to the crimes,” court documents said.
One female child soldier received 150 lashes and was raped as punishment, Bensouda told the court.
Her wounds “took a month to heal”, she said.
Wearing a charcoal suit and sporting his trademark pencil moustache, Ntaganda listened intently, but showed no emotion as the evidence was presented.
Ntaganda is the founder of the M23 rebel group Kinshasa eventually defeated late last year after an 18-month insurgency in the eastern DR Congo’s North Kivu region.
He is facing 13 counts of war crimes and five of crimes against humanity over abuses allegedly committed a decade ago when he was a warlord in Ituri, further north.
Prosecutors say at least 800 people were killed by Ntaganda’s Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) as they battled rival militias for control of the mineral-rich area.
At his first appearance in March last year, Ntaganda told judges: “I was informed of these crimes and I plead not guilty.”
His lawyer Marc Desalliers said his client was not the “caricature” painted by the prosecution, criticising references to his nickname, “The Terminator”.