Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda denies war crimes in court
Standing before the International Criminal Court on Tuesday for the first time, Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda denied he was guilty of a long list of wartime crimes.
Ntaganda faces charges of forcing children to fight as soldiers and indirectly perpetrating murder, rape, attacks on civilians and other crimes against humanity. He was officially informed of the charges against him at the hearing Tuesday in the Hague. The warlord said he was not guilty before a judge interrupted and told him he did not yet need to enter a plea.
Long wanted by the international court, Ntaganda stunned the world last week by surrendering himself to the U.S. embassy after years of living freely in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The court has no police force to track down suspects and relies on governments to arrest them.
Accused of rampant atrocities during earlier rebellions, Ntaganda was folded into the Congolese army as a general through a peace deal, only to stage a mutiny against the government last year. His latest round of rebellion was again marked by accusations of brutal abuses. The U.N. Security Council said his M23 rebels had slain civilians en masse, raped women and young girls, and used child soldiers; Human Rights Watch reported last year that scores more young men and boys were forcibly recruited into his forces last spring.
His decision to turn himself in suggested that Ntaganda had few options left after the rebels divided and began fighting among themselves. The court earlier convicted another Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, of using child soldiers, and acquitted Mathieu Ngudjolo, who headed another Congolese rebel group, in the first two verdicts the fledgling court had handed down.
Human Rights Watch said bringing Ntaganda to court marked “a major achievement.” However, “if the ICC is going to help break the repetitive cycle of abuses in Congo, it needs to move beyond local warlords and prosecute the senior officials standing behind them,” its international justice advocacy director, Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, said.
The court scheduled a hearing to confirm the charges against Ntaganda for September. Such hearings decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
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