by Staff Reporter
The Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda – a once-feared general with a flair for cowboy hats, pencil moustaches and fine dining – will appear before the international criminal court on Monday.
The rebel leader, who surprised American officials last year when he turned up at the US embassy in Rwanda and turned himself in, faces charges ranging from rape and murder to using child soldiers.
The judges based in The Hague have 60 days after the hearing to decide whether the case against him should proceed to trial.
The man nicknamed “The Terminator” was the founder of the M23 rebel group, which was defeated by UN-backed government troops in November after an 18-month insurgency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo‘s mineral-rich and restive Kivu region.
But the 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he faces at the ICC concern violence committed in 2002 and 2003 in the Ituri region, further north.
The court issued a warrant in 2006 but Ntaganda managed to evade arrest because he remained a powerful commander. In 2006, he became a military leader for the CNDP, an ethnic Tutsi rebel group led by Laurent Nkunda.
The insurgency was ended by a peace deal that integrated the former rebels into the army. Ntaganda was made a general and began building a parallel command in the military.
He activated that network to form the M23 in 2012 when President Joseph Kabila signalled he was ready to comply with the ICC warrant and have him arrested.
The ICC subsequently added new charges but not over the M23 fighting, despite reports by several rights groups detailing further abuses.
In an anecdote showing Ntaganda’s willingness to get his hands dirty, one woman from Birambizo in North Kivu told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Ntaganda himself had visited her village to recruit. “He asked us to give our children, our students, to him to fight. He came to our village himself,” the woman said.
In the words of a child soldier who testified against Ntaganda in The Hague, he is known as someone who “kills people easily”.
Born in 1973 in Rwanda but brought up in Congo, Ntaganda eventually fled to Rwanda in 2013 when splits emerged in his M23 group.
That brought an end to the lifestyle he continued to enjoy for years despite the ICC warrant.
“Ntaganda has boldly walked around the restaurants and tennis courts of Goma flaunting his impunity like a medal of honour while engaging in ruthless human rights abuses,” the HRW senior Africa researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg said.
Ntaganda is a keen tennis player, and loves jogging and surfing the internet, according to his lawyer, Antoine Mahamba Kasiwa.
According to UN investigators, he has managed to amass considerable wealth by running a large extortion empire in North Kivu, manning rogue checkpoints and taxing the area’s many mines.
One report said he once earned $15,000 (£9,000) a week from just one border crossing. Ntaganda had fled Rwanda to eastern Congo as an adolescent following attacks on his fellow Tutsis.
In 1990, in his late teens, he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which was based in Uganda at the time and which put an end to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, under the leadership of the current president, Paul Kagame.
Since then Ntaganda has alternated between fighting in the national army and rebellions, including in the five-year Congo war that drew in the entire region and ended in 2003.