THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Sep 21 – Congolese former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda has started eating again after an unprecedented nearly two-week hunger strike in his detention cell in The Netherlands, refusing to attend his war crimes trial.
The once-feared rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo has not appeared in the courtroom at the International Criminal Court in The Hague since September 7.
“Mr Ntaganda started eating tonight,” his lawyer, Stephane Bourgon, said in an email sent late Tuesday.
Ntaganda launched his hunger strike to protest against the conditions of his detention, including over family visits and his accusations that the court is not giving him a fair trial.
“If everything goes well, his wife will be in The Hague from Thursday and will be able to see Mr Ntaganda in an almost private setting, which meet (his) minimum expectations,” Bourgon said.
In a long, rambling, written statement from September 13 seen by AFP, Ntaganda said: “There is no possibility that I will see my wife and children again under normal conditions.”
Once dubbed “The Terminator”, Ntaganda has denied 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity arising out of savage ethnic attacks carried out in the DR Congo by his rebel Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) in 2002-2003.
He is the first defendant before the tribunal set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes to ever go on hunger strike and his protest is vexing judges who have ordered his trial must go on in his absence.
Ntaganda’s trial opened in September 2015 after he walked into the US embassy in Kigali in 2013.
The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been mired for two decades in ethnically-charged wars, as rebels battle for control of its rich mineral resources.
Prosecutors say Ntaganda played a central role in the Ituri conflict in the far northeast which rights groups believe alone has left some 60,000 dead since 1999.