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. Sitting on a grey chair, dressed in a navy blue suit with a left side pocket on the chest, a white shirt and a tie of a different shade of blue, Ntaganda followed his hearing keenly his eyes darting about his see-through spectacles as he answered questions directed at him.
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.