Congolese war crimes suspect Bosco Ntaganda spent his first night in custody at the International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday, having turned himself in to face charges ranging from murder and rape to using child soldiers.
The first ever suspect to voluntarily surrender to the court, Ntaganda is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed during his years as a warlord in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo).
The man known as “The Terminator” walked into the US embassy in Rwanda on Monday and asked to be sent to the Hague-based court.
Ntaganda was allegedly involved in the murder of at least 800 people in villages in the volatile east of the DR Congo. He is also accused of having kept child soldiers in his rebel army and using women as sex slaves between September 2002 and September 2003.
He was taken into ICC custody in Kigali and flown to Rotterdam airport late on Friday.
The ICC tweeted shortly after that “Bosco Ntaganda arrived to the ICC detention center,” under Dutch police escort in The Hague’s seaside suburb of Scheveningen.
Ntaganda will face judges for the first time on Tuesday, after a medical checkup.
Judges will verify his identity and the language in which he will be able to follow the hearings. In the presence of a defense lawyer, he will also be informed of the charges against him, the court said.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda welcomed news of Ntaganda’s transfer, saying: “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 prospect of justice taking its course,” she said in a statement.
US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed a major step for “justice and accountability.”
“Now there is hope that justice will be done,” he said in a statement.
Ntaganda’s arrival in The Hague “will also send a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities that they will be held accountable for their crimes,” Kerry said.
Set up just over a decade ago, the ICC is the world’s only permanent criminal court to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Once a commander of the DR Congo’s M23 rebels, Ntaganda is believed to have crossed into Rwanda last weekend along with several hundred fighters loyal to him, after they suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a rival rebel faction.
He arrived in the Netherlands almost four years after the signing of a March 23, 2009, peace agreement with Kinshasa that integrated his earlier rebel group into the regular army and paved the way for him to become a Congolese general.
The failure of that deal sparked a mutiny by the rebels-turned-soldiers, who set up M23.