2 Apr 2012

The ‘Terminator’ and why Congo is still not at peace

Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller reports on Bosco Ntaganda, the accused war criminal from Congo who is “just as dangerous as Joseph Kony”.

Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor-elect of the International Criminal Court, is to travel to the Congolese capital next month to demand that President Joseph Kabila hand over a war crimes suspect who is heading the national army’s military operations in eastern Congo.

The suspect, Bosco Ntaganda – known throughout the DRC as “The Terminator” – was indicted by the ICC six years ago, accused of conscripting and enlisting child soldiers. His co-accused, Thomas Lubanga, was convicted this month – in the Hague – of the same charge. It was the ICC’s first-ever verdict and he is yet to be sentenced.

But since the arrest of Lubanga in 2005, forces under the command of Bosco Ntaganda are accused of mass killings during a rebellion three years ago – according to a United Nations report.

Yet today, General Bosco lives openly in the eastern city of Goma where he is in charge of 50,000 Congolese soldiers. The 17,000 UN peacekeepers stationed in the country are powerless to apprehend him. Their spokesman told us they cannot arrest him without an order from the president. As a signatory of the ICC, Congo is legally obliged to arrest a suspect indicted by the court.

But President Kabila has not done so.

“I want to get Bosco here,” said Fatou Bensouda, at ICC headquarters in The Hague. “This is the place. This is his destiny. This is where should be. He should be tried for the crimes that he has [been] committing for many years now. He should be stopped.”

Ms Bensouda, from the Gambia, is to take over as chief prosecutor in June. She has been the deputy prosecutor for the past seven years and puts Bosco Ntaganda at the top of her most-wanted list.

Witnesses and victims who have spoken to Channel 4 News accuse General Bosco of continuing to rape, torture, murder and recruit child soldiers – a reign of terror which, they say, carries on to this day. The ICC is aware of these allegations.

We were playing when Bosco Ntaganda’s soldiers came and abducted us and took us to him. They told us ‘Bosco Ntaganda is now your father’.

“He would find two or three girls and take us by force to turn us into his ‘wives’,” one teenaged girl told Channel 4 News. “He was brutal to me. I risked getting killed because he is a killer. I feared death and so I gave in to him.”

An 11-year-old boy told us: “We were playing, when Bosco Ntaganda’s soldiers came and abducted us and took us to him. They told us ‘Bosco Ntaganda is now your father’. We were tortured to toughen us up… in preparation for when we were needed on the battlefield.” This, he claims, all happened just last year.

Under a peace deal which ended the 2008 rebellion, Bosco Ntaganda’s forces were reintegrated into the Congolese national army. He was promoted to the rank of general in January 2009 and was, say well-placed sources, instrumental is getting President Joseph Kabila re-elected at the end of last year, by securing votes in the east.

“Bosco Ntaganda is a man at the peak of his power at the moment,” said Anneke van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, who has tracked “The Terminator” for the past 13 years.

“He controls Goma. He is a general in the Congolese army. He is amassing wealth. He is amassing power.

“He drives around Goma without a care in the world,” she said. “He goes to the top restaurants. He plays tennis. He shows up at his office. He wines, he dines. This is a man who doesn’t think anyone is ever going to lift a finger to arrest him.”

The 'Terminator' and why Congo is still not at peace.

‘Just as dangerous as Joseph Kony’

The ICC charges against Bosco Ntganda are similar to those against one of their other “most wanted” suspects, the Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony. He shot to prominence in March with a viral video produced by the US campaign group Invisible Children.

“Bosco Ntaganda is just as dangerous as Joseph Kony,” the ICC Chief Prosecutor-elect told Channel 4 News. “Not arresting Bosco, allowing him to walk freely, like he’s not committed any crimes, is unacceptable. And by allowing Bosco to do whatever he has been doing is just, I think, it’s an affront to the victims.”

I have personally met some of those victims and witnessed the immediate aftermath of one of the atrocities of which “The Terminator” stands accused.

Read more: Channel 4 News reports from Congo

On 6 November 2008 I was in Congo for Channel 4 News covering a violent rebellion by turncoat soldiers from the Congolese national army. That morning, we had driven from the regional capital, Goma, north, to Rutshuru, a garrison town for United Nations peacekeepers.

But rebel soldiers, under the direct command of Bosco Ntaganda, had rampaged through the nearby village of Kiwanja, massacring men, women and children in their homes – right under the noses of the UN troops, who did not intervene. General Bosco has claimed that all those killed were combatants.

But I know this is not true. I can state this as fact because I was there, with my TV crew.

We interviewed a handful of survivors who told of their terror as rebel soldiers shot everyone they found – or chopped them with pangas (machetes). We filmed the perpetrators, watching us menacingly from the hill above the village. And we went to the local UN base, where peacekeepers remained barricaded inside, too frightened to come out to protect the terrified civilians who had camped in their hundreds outside the gates.

“He has committed heinous crimes,” a survivor of the Kiwanja massacre told Channel 4 News. “He has killed so many people. There were so many bodies, my neighbours among them,” she said. “Those who were torching houses and killing people were soldiers of Bosco Ntaganda.”

A man whose wife was killed at Kiwanja and narrowly escaped a violent death himself said: “They would tie your arms and legs. Then they would either shoot you, or chop you up with a panga. As you lay there dying, his troops would chant ‘Long live Bosco Ntaganda.'”

The ICC prosecutor has now announced the intention to expand the number of charges against Bosco Ntaganda to include murder and rape – which may also cite the Kiwanja killings, during which “The Terminator” was chief of staff of rebel forces and their regional commander.

In London, I asked the DRC’s Ambassador, Barnabé Kikaya-bin-Karubi, why the president had not ordered Bosco Ntaganda’s arrest – particularly as Congo had already handed over four other indicted war criminals, including a former vice-president.

When two elephants fight, in Africa we say it is the grass that suffers. Barnabé Kikaya-bin-Karubi

“We cannot rush into arresting someone that we perceive, that we know, has contributed to bringing peace to eastern DRC,” he said. “It’s taking a long time because the individual here is part of the peace process. Peace is crucial for the Congo to start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

A long war – in which more than five-million people were killed – supposedly ended a decade ago, but Congo is still not at peace.

The ambassador said Bosco Ntaganda would eventually be arrested, but he would not commit to when this would happen. I told him that the general was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity which continued long after his arrest warrant was first issued. Civilians, I said, were the ones who were suffering.

His response: “Of course, when two elephants fight, in Africa we say it is the grass that suffers.”

Anneke van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch said: “The Congolese government will claim that Bosco Ntaganda is necessary for peace. I think after three years of him being a general in the Congolese army, of not having peace in eastern Congo, of continued killings and abuses and constant attacks on civilians, that excuse is no longer valid.”

We contacted General Bosco and he denied the allegations of killing, rape and recruiting child soldiers. He directed us to the Congolese government which he says is now the authority for whom he works. He also claimed there were two senior figures, now in government, who had command responsibility for his activities.

Jonathan Miller worked extensively in Congo with independent film-maker Fiona Lloyd-Davies.