This blog post was written by Sasha Lezhnev, Deputy Director of Policy at the Enough Project.
Today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) sentenced Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, also known as the “The Terminator,” to its harshest ever punishment: 30 years in prison. This is an appropriately strong sentence for someone who is responsible for a litany of massacres, rapes, and killings, as well as for torture and the recruitment of child soldiers. Thousands of Congolese people died as a result of his actions. Ntaganda was convicted by the ICC in July of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The long sentence handed down today sends an important signal to current armed commanders in Congo and elsewhere in the region that if they order mass killings or sexual violence, or commit other grave crimes, they will be held accountable for their actions.
Ntaganda headed a conflict minerals smuggling ring worth hundreds of millions of dollars in which tantalum, tin, and gold from mines controlled by armed units under his control were illegally trafficked to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
The Enough Project and The Sentry have long been engaged in highlighting Ntaganda’s nefarious activities, along with other NGOs such as Human Rights Watch. We published reports detailing his actions, issued Take Action alerts calling for his arrest, and investigated his houses and finances. As a result, he and commanders under him threatened our own staff. Last but not least, we sent two team members to the ICC to engage with chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her staff, successfully urging them to focus on holding Ntaganda accountable for the war crime of pillage.
Ntaganda’s pillage conviction by the ICC is important as it establishes a degree of accountability for the conflict minerals trade and for other theft during conflict. What’s more, his is the most extensive ICC pillage conviction to date. Fellow Congolese Jean-Pierre Bemba’s convictions were overturned on appeal, and the pillage conviction of Germain Katanga was limited to a one-day attack. The Ntaganda pillage conviction is more extensive. He was found guilty of the war crime of pillage in six different locations in eastern Congo, including gold-rich Mongbwalu in Ituri. The Trial Chamber sentenced him to 12 years for the war crime of pillage, 15 years for the war crime of destruction of the adversary’s property, and 10 years for the war crime of intentional attack directed at a protected object.
Ntaganda’s conviction also represents the first ICC conviction of sexual slavery as a crime against humanity and as a war crime.
Delivering justice for these crimes is a key part of the overall solution to address conflicts in Central and East Africa. When war criminals are sentenced to time in prison, it sends a strong signal to future potential perpetrators and their would-be enablers.
Importantly, Ntaganda did not work alone, and those who backed and profited from his illicit activities and crimes should also be held accountable. He was supported strongly by Rwanda for several years and he smuggled conflict minerals to Rwanda; senior Congolese army officers supplied arms and ammunition to his units and collaborated in smuggling conflict minerals.
The Sentry supports several cases for accountability in our focus countries, and we are developing a new initiative with the Clooney Foundation for Justice that support accountability for those profiting from war.
Today’s sentence is momentous, but it is not the end of the road. Aside from the likely appeals, the case will enter the reparations phase. During this time, any and all financial gain that resulted from the array of crimes Ntaganda has been convicted of should considered for seizure and redistribution to the victims of his reign of terror. Victims and other community members in Congo will need ongoing support during this period.