So a War Criminal Walks Into A US Embassy….

To those who follow developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the fact that Bosco Ntaganda, the Terminator, walked into the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda and turned himself in was kind of a big deal. Ntaganda was the leader of the former CNDP (a Rwanda backed rebel movement in the DRC) and the current leader of one half of the new M23. Yes, it is all very confusing- defunct rebel organizations integrated into the Congolese army, to be born again a few years later with the same leaders and the same backers, only to split in to two rival parts. Welcome to the world of African Studies.

Ntaganda has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for years. He faces seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity (charges ranging from murder, mass rape, and use of child soldiers) for a 2002-2003 rampage the CNDP perpetrated in Ituri. Everyone has know where Bosco has been all this time. He’s been in the Congo, as a general in the army as part of a 2009 peace accord. Then as the leader of the M23. Which just split into two rival factions. And his faction just got it handed to them in battle. So, facing dwindling support from both his rebel base unit, and probably from Rwanda, Bosco turned himself in to the United States Embassy.

Fun fact- the US is not a participant in the ICC. This means that while the US has signed the Rome Statute in 2000, it has never ratified it, making the US not a party to the court. This means that the US can’t ask for people to be tried by the court, can’t turn people in to the court, and can’t be tried by the court. There are several reasons for this, some being the US has a justice system (if Rick Scott of Fl suddenly organized a militia and started murdering people in Georgia to claim territory, the US is able to stop him and try him in our justice system) and every administration has argued that as America remains the dominate military policeman on the planet, our troops are put in ‘war crime-ish’ situations protecting other countries, so it wouldn’t be fair to charge any US military or civilian leaders at the ICC.

So, Bosco’s surrender provided a small headache for the US- they had to work through intermediaries to transfer Ntaganda to the ICC.  The interesting part here will be this week as Ntaganda goes to court the first time, to hear the charges against him, and in the coming years as the trial develops. Whatever Ntaganda testifies, it can’t be good news for Rwanda or the RPF (the Rwandan armed forces).  The reason that Ntaganda handed himself in (the first wanted criminal to ever voluntarily surrender) isn’t clear. Perhaps it was pressure from Rwanda- this to me seems unlikely, as testimony could be potentially damaging and Rwanda has spoken out against the ICC as illegitimate. More likely, Bosco saw the writing on the wall. His rebel movement was falling apart with internal discord, he was rapidly losing support, and any conditions/judgement he faced from either the DRC or Rwanda was bound to be far, far worse than a vacay at the Hague.

Good news is hard to come by in the eastern region of the DRC, so it is good news that Ntaganda will be tried for his crimes. It will be one small bit of justice for the Congolese. Which is very much needed. However, things in the Congo are unlikely to change with Bosco gone. The Kabila government is still weak, the east is still home to many militias, and the domestic problems of land rights, citizenship, and agency still remain. State capacity is everything, and the DRC still lacks that. However, there is one less war criminal roaming about, which is always a good thing.