Today, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) conviction of Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda, who was found guilty for war crimes and crimes against humanity and is the first person to be convicted for sexual slavery by that court. A panel of three judges unanimously found Ntaganda guilty of 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity for acts committed in 2002-2003 while he was a member of the militia known as the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and was the leader of its military wing, known as the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). Today,
“The ICC’s conviction of Ntaganda is a major triumph in the global fight to end impunity and hold war criminals accountable for their actions, as well as for the countless victims who have suffered at the hands of Ntaganda’s brutality and have long awaited justice,” said Stephen Rapp, a PHR board member and former U.S. ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice who coordinated U.S. efforts that led to Ntaganda’s surrender and transfer to the ICC. “The ICC’s sentencing must hold Ntaganda accountable for the egregious human rights violations he committed, including the persecution, rape, sexual slavery, and murder of thousands of civilians.”
Ntaganda, born in Rwanda, was dubbed “the Terminator” for the ruthlessness with which he is alleged to have operated during a military career in which he alternately opposed and allied with the military of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). At the time of the crimes for which he is charged, Ntaganda was chief of military operations of the UPC. In 2012, Ntaganda left the Congolese national military, known as the FARDC, and formed the M23 rebel group which was based in the North-Kivu region of the DRC. He faced allegations of ordering mass executions, rapes and use of child soldiers. The ICC issued arrest warrants for Ntaganda in 2006 and 2012. Soon after M23 fell apart, Ntaganda surrendered himself to the United States embassy in Kigali in March 2013.
“Our medical and legal partners in eastern DRC have witnessed the immense physical, psychological, social, and economic toll of these crimes on entire communities. Ending the widespread impunity for mass atrocities that have been committed, and sadly continue, in this region is imperative to ensure the safety of communities in the DRC,” said Karen Naimer, Director of PHR’s Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones.
PHR launched its Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, a multi-year training and advocacy initiative, in 2011, with the aim of forging coalitions among regional medical, law enforcement and legal experts in Central and East Africa to increase local capacity for the collection of court-admissible evidence of sexual violence to support prosecutions for these crimes. Through this program, which works with local medical, legal, and judicial partners to end impunity for such crimes in the DRC and other countries in the region, PHR has witnessed firsthand the physical and psychological trauma and the community terrorization caused by Ntaganda and the M23 rebel group.
“Meaningful reparations must be made to those who have come forward as victims of Ntaganda’s brutal and ruthless violence,” added Naimer. “The transfer of shame and stigma of sexual violence and other crimes against humanity, in the DRC and elsewhere, from the victim to the perpetrator is paramount for restoring rights and dignity to the most vulnerable populations.”
PHR is calling for the ICC and the DRC to pursue charges against Ntaganda and other M23 members responsible for committing brutal human rights atrocities against communities in the DRC between 2012 and 2013. Additionally, local hospitals, governments, and educational institutions in the region must support and provide the training and mentoring needed to develop the skills to effectively document cases of sexual violence to support prosecution for these crimes.
The ICC’s decision marks the court’s first conviction of sexual slavery. If the judgment is confirmed on appeal, this would be the ICC’s first “final” conviction for crimes of sexual violence, including those against men. Ntaganda is the fourth person the ICC has prosecuted for committing international crimes in the DRC.
Additional PHR resources, including multimedia, on its work to end sexual violence in conflict zones, and in support of Ntaganda’s conviction:
- Where We Work: Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Focus Area: Sexual Violence
- Press Release: “Medical-Legal Collaboration Leads to Justice in Serial Rape Case in Democratic Republic of the Congo,” June 19, 2019
- Report: “Enhancing a Regional Response to Crimes of Sexual Violence,” December 1, 2015
- Press Release: “Congolese Warlord Must Now Face ICC Trial on War Crimes Charges,” March 19, 2013
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.