By Susan Kendi
Bosco Ntaganda, the Congolese warlord also known as ‘The Terminator’, took the witness stand in his own defence at the International Criminal Court on Wednesday June 14, 2017.
Ntaganda’s lead lawyer, Stéphane Bourgon, had unsuccessfully requested an adjournment until the appeal chamber decided on an application to suspend the hearing ahead of a determination on his “No case to answer” motion.
Judges Robert Fremr (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki and Chang-ho Chung declined the request, and Ntaganda, who is charged with 13 counts of war crimes and 5 counts of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Ituri province, the DRC in 2002/2003, began to testify. The crimes he is alleged to have committed include: murder and attempted murder, attacking civilians, rape, sexual slavery of civilians, enlistment and conscription of child soldiers under the age 15 years among other crimes.
Bourgon first addressed the court before leading Ntaganda in his evidence. “I will be asking my questions in French but his answers will be provided in Swahili but we will both be translated,” he said.
He requested for white pages or a pen to be given to the witness in case he might need to write something or rectify some mistakes.
Bourgon: Is it okay for me to refer to you as Papa Bosco?
Ntaganda: To refer to me as Papa Bosco that means that I must be older than your father but it is okay to refer to me as Brother Bosco.
The defence lawyer questioned Ntaganda on what the expression ‘kadogo’ meant.
Kadogo is Kiswahili, as is used in Kenya, Tanzania and other countries, for little one or little thing.
Ntaganda: Today, you can’t call me kadogo.I am not a thin person … Kadogo means someone who is small and kibonge is someone who is heavy or huge,” Ntaganda explained.
Ntaganda told the ICC that he was born on November 5, 1973 in Kinigi, Rwanda, but grew up in Masisi in the territory of North Kivu Province in the eastern part of the Congo.
Bourgon: Where did you spend your childhood years?
Ntaganda: My grandparents were Congolese by nationality and I grew up with them before I joined the army.
Bourgon: Do you go by any other names apart from Bosco Ntaganda?
Ntaganda told the ICC that he was baptized in the Seventh Day Adventists Church and only his mother and brothers know his baptismal name, Eneis. He started going by the name Bosco when he was in the army.
Bourgon: Are your parents still alive today?
Ntaganda: My father passed away; he died in 2011. My mother is still alive.
When the lawyer asked Ntaganda where his mother currently lives, he asked: “Are we in private or open session?” The court went into a private session.
Back in open session, Bourgon asked Ntaganda to share the details of his sister’s death during the Rwanda genocide. She was his blood sister, he said, same mother and father. During the Rwanda genocide, he said that he lost a lot of his family members, his aunts and uncles included.
The Rwanda genocide took place in 1994. Many people fled during the massacre and those that stayed in Rwanda were killed. An estimate of 800,000 Rwandans were massacred in the space of 100 days.
“I believe the entire world is aware of the genocide in Rwanda that took place in 1994,” Ntaganda said.
Bourgon: Were you a witness to the genocide in 1994 in Rwanda?
Ntaganda: Yes, I was one of those who put an end to the genocide. I was young but I was already in the army. I was a platoon commander and I witnessed horrific events.
Asked whether the Rwanda genocide contributed to transforming him into the person he is today, he answered in the affirmative.
Ntaganda: When we had put an end to the genocide in Rwanda our superiors told us that after what we had seen, we had to do everything to prevent the same from happening again in Africa ... I told myself I did not wish to see any other community experience what my community went through.
Bourgon: Where did your grandparents come from?
Ntaganda: My grandparents were of Congolese descent but during the genocide, they were already deceased.
Bourgon: Given your past, would you describe yourself as Congolese or Rwandese?
Ntaganda: I am Congolese but in my family we speak Kiswahili and Kinyarwanda.
In Masisi, where he grew up, most people do not know Kiswahili except those that live in towns, like Goma.
Bourgon: Are you married?
Ntaganda: I am married … I cohabited with my wife since 2002 but we officially got married in 2010 … I have seven children.
Ntaganda gave the names and ages of his children in private session. A question was raised on Ntaganda having two wives whereas his religion, the Seventh Day Adventists, did not allow a believer to have more than one wife.
He told the court that he took a second wife in 2003. There was a conflict between the North and South Hema and the parents to the lady approached him and requested him to marry her but he told them that his father, a devoted Christian, would never accept that and neither does his religion. They requested him to have children with the lady.
He said that he did not live with his second wife but that once in a while, she would come to visit him as his fiancée, then leave for home. The young woman was a student, who lived with her mother, and he paid her school fees and rent.
It was during this period that she got pregnant, but was unsure if it was Ntaganda’s or someone else’s child. They were trying to conduct a DNA test to find out whose child it was. This is what led to their break up.
Ntaganda told the judges that marrying a second wife from a different community meant that he would be treated as an in-law and this would mean better relations with the people from the community. He added that taking in a second wife had some impact on the conflict between the North and South Hema since the young woman’s community interpreted that to mean that he was on their side.
Ntaganda dropped out of high school to join the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), which was formed in Uganda to overthrow the Rwandese government in order to create an opportunity for Tutsis expelled from Rwanda in 1959 to return home.
At that time the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) army was in rebellion and received support from Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni. Ntaganda told the ICC that he joined the rebellion in February 1991 when he was 17 years old. They went to Uganda and trained between in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
Ntaganda spoke about his early days in the RPF, and his first military training in the forest. Thereafter, he became a trainer himself. When training they were taught some ideologies and what they had to do when they became soldiers.
When the rebellion was launched, he was still a student but the situation had changed where he lived. He heard that the Tutsi in Central Africa would be killed.
When Ntaganda and his colleagues heard that machetes would be used to kill the Tutsi, he and other strong Tutsis moved from Congo to Uganda and joined the army without any hesitation.
He added that during a rebellion people do not train for long and hence they had professional trainers. They were ready for combat at the battle front. There were about 6,000 to 7,000 recruits who were not on the frontline of battle.
At the end of training 80 fighters were selected and sent for further training in leadership, on how to be an instructor, and how to lead other soldiers and be a teacher.
Bourgon: Did you have a nickname at that time?
Ntaganda: I had several. Osimorar and Uridia, since I led in singing to raise morale in the group.
He added that by then he was a kadogo and not kibonge since he was of a slight build.
Ntaganda told the court that it was impossible for a Tutsis to join the national army at home, the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) since historically, they were said to have come from Ethiopia and other places. They found this unacceptable and joined the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA).
Ntaganda continued testifying before the International Criminal Court on June 15.
By Terry Jeff Odhiambo
Gambia stands as a testament to the glacial progress Africa is making in the sphere of human rights. With the country on the mend and efforts under way to bring former President Yahya Jammeh to justice, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights could scarcely have found a better host country to hold its 30th anniversary.
The celebrations in Banjul, between November 1 and 4, 2017, come at a time of hope and restoration for the Gambia after the end of Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorial regime. Jammeh’s government was notorious for its disregard of international human rights norms despite ironically hosting the ACHPR. Arbitrary arrests, threats, enforced disappearances and torture were commonplace. There is still plenty of room for improvement. Attorney General Abubacarr Tambadou, who is also Justice Minister, told the opening of the 35th Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR that notwithstanding the various strides made by nations in the application of human rights instruments, the full enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms since the adoption of the African Charter, continues to face challenges. The Justice minister reiterated that the new government of Gambia had reaffirmed its commitment to protecting human rights and to living up to its position as the human rights capital of Africa. As recently as September 2017 the Gambia, signed five international treaties on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which seeks to abolish abolition the death penalty. In the coming months, Gambia is committed to ratifying more human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and adopting a new republican constitution within the shortest time possible and developing a system of justice that can look into past atrocities and sustain its democracy. The NGOs Forum, which is usually held on the margins of the ACHPR Ordinary Sessions, is a platform for fostering collaboration between civil society organisations on the one hand and the ACHPR on the other, with the aim of promoting and protecting human rights in Africa.
Human rights abuses in Africa are a sad reality. The tableau of human suffering on the continent is scar on humanity’s conscience. From South Sudan, to the Central African Republic to Egypt and Ethiopia, abuses are increasingly being witnessed more than ever before. As one of the bulwarks against this depressing trend, the work of the ACHPR since its inception calls for evaluation. The promise by states and governments to guarantee human dignity and rights – through almost universal endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ever-increasing ratification of international human rights treaties – seems to have had little impact on the daily lives of millions of people in the region.
The sad reality is that the human rights situation in various African countries continues to deteriorate on the ACHPR’s watch. There has been an escalation of threats to the enjoyment of human rights on the continent, ranging from arbitrary arrests, infringement of freedom of association and assembly, police brutality and threats to human rights defenders.
Since the inception of the ACHPR, seven states have never reported on the situation of human rights to the commission. The states -- Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and South Sudan -- continue to witness some of gravest human rights violations on the continent. Twenty other states have three or more pending state reports -- including Gambia, while 16 other states have one or two pending state reports. Only nine states, namely Kenya, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger and South Africa are up to date with their state reporting obligations. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Niger are set to report during the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. State reporting procedure is a stock taking that serves as a forum for constructive dialogue and enables the Commission to monitor implementation of the African Charter and identify challenges impeding the realisation of the objects of the African Charter.
Some of the critiques that the Commission has received over time include the failure to implement its findings, such as decisions on: individual communications, concluding observations on State reports, country and thematic resolutions, and recommendations made in relation to missions to countries.
The 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR will see the swearing in of new commissioners and the exit of those whose terms have ended. The ACHPR is composed of 11 Commissioners, who are “chosen from amongst African personalities of the highest reputation, known for their high morality, integrity, impartiality and competence in matters of human and peoples’ rights; particular consideration being given to persons having legal experience” (African Charter, Article 31). They are elected by the African Union Assembly from experts nominated by States parties to the Charter. The Commissioners serve in their personal capacity and are elected for a six-year renewable term.
The upcoming 30th Anniversary celebrations are an opportunity to reaffirm the values and enduring principles enshrined in the African Charter mobilize people around the continent, and take stock of human rights today in Africa.
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