23 March 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: Ntaganda Transferred to the Hague

Congolese war criminal suspect Bosco Ntaganda was yesterday transferred from the US embassy in Kigali to the International Criminal Court (ICC), five days after he voluntarily surrendered to the embassy and asked to be transferred to The Hague-based court.

After Ntaganda boarded a private jet at Kigali International Airport in the company of an ICC delegation, Rwanda's Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo wrote on her twitter account, "Bosco Ntaganda has just taken off from Kigali in custody of ICC officials following cooperation between Rwanda, US & Dutch governments."

Ntaganda, who was first indicted by the ICC seven years ago, is accused of enlisting children under the age of 15 into a rebel group northeastern DRC, murder, attacks against the civilian population, rape and sexual slavery, and pillaging, among others.

The crimes were allegedly committed in Ituri in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1 September 2002 and the end of September 2003.

Rwanda is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC in 2002.

The US, which also does not recognise the court, also welcomed Ntaganda's transfer and hailed the cooperation it received from the Government of Rwanda, the Netherlands and Britain.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, in a statement, described the transfer as "an important moment for all who believe in justice and accountability."

The ICC also praised the multilateral cooperation that resulted in Ntaganda's transfer into its custory and promised to expedite his trial.

"This is a good day for victims in the DRC and for international justice. Today those who are alleged to have long suffered at the hands of Bosco Ntaganda can look forward to the future and the prospect of justice taking its course," said the court's top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

"Upon arrival, Mr Ntaganda will receive a medical visit and will appear, as soon as possible, before the Judges in the presence of a Defence Lawyer. The date of the initial appearance hearing will be announced soon," the court announced in a statement.

During the initial appearance hearing, the court said, Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the court will verify the identity of the suspect and the language in which he is able to follow the proceedings.

Then he will be informed of the charges against him and the Judges will schedule a date for the opening of the confirmation of charges hearing, a preliminary step to decide whether the case will be referred to a trial or not, added the statement.

Ntaganda made a surprise appearance at the US embassy in Kigali on Monday, en route from DRC where he deserted from the army last year after President Joseph Kabila's government moved to arrest him over the ICC warrant.

Meanwhile, the ICC has renewed calls to 'states and other actors to focus their efforts on securing' the arrest of Sylvestre Mudacumura, the top commander of the Congo-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia.

Mudacumura is accused of crimes against humanity and nine war crimes counts. The counts relate to murder, inhumane acts, rape and torture allegedly committed by Mudacumura's fighters in the DRC's eastern Kivu province between January 20, 2009 and August 31, 2010.

Mudacumura was part of defunct ex-FAR army which drove millions of Rwandans into DRC after presiding over a genocide that claimed the lives of at least one million people in Rwanda in 1994.

Prosecutor Bensouda has also called for the arrest of top commanders of the Ugandan rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army who are also among the rebels operating in the Congo.

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