Saturday, May 19, 2012

is war justice?

Since April, more than 40,000 people have fled their homes, trudging through mud and rains to a point of safety - either in Congo or across the border into Rwanda or Uganda, or indeed, anywhere. Tutsi refugees arriving in Rwanda have reported widespread physical and verbal assault, often carried out by soldiers.

ICC-indicted Bosco "The Terminator" Ntaganda was one of the most powerful generals in eastern Congo - but now is a man on the run, leaving an area the size of Greece destabilising in his wake. An ethnic Tutsi warlord believed to be of Rwandan origin, Ntaganda began his career fighting against the 1994 genocide alongside Rwandan president Paul Kagame. In 2002, he became second-in-command of Thomas Lubanga's clan-based militia in Ituri district, north-east Congo. It was here that he earned his Hollywood sobriquet "The Terminator", which is referred to by the ICC. In 2002 and 2003, he allegedly commanded men to murder at least 800 civilians in and around Mongbwalu, a strategic mining town which holds some 2.5 million ounces of gold. After that war ebbed, Ntaganda joined the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) under the leadership of another zealot, Laurent Nkunda, with whom he fought against the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. In 2008, he is believed to have led CNDP troops in a frenzied 24-hour massacre of 150 people at Kiwanja village in North Kivu. More recently, he is understood by UN experts to be taking some $15,000 a week in taxes from smuggling operations between DRC and Rwanda. Yet, despite his brutal history, for some Congolese Tutsis, Ntaganda symbolises the prospect of peace in their homelands, where there is still widespread persecution by Hutus.

Michael Deibert, author of Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair, describes Ntaganda as the "king-maker" in mineral-rich North Kivu, since his 2009 betrayal of Nkunda, which led to a secret peace deal and the integration of the CNDP into the state army. "Ntaganda is the lynchpin of what they have called peace in eastern Congo - peace linked with impunity because that's been the nature of the peace," he said. President Kabila has chosen, until this year, not to act on the 2006 warrant for Ntaganda's arrest. It seems that "The Terminator" had little choice but to defect. A number of former CNDP officers and soldiers followed him, and, within weeks, around 600 men had joined him in Masisi, the traditional CNDP heartland. According to Human Rights Watch, he has since recruited at least 149 boy-soldierss and young men aged between 12 and 20 years old - the very crime for which he was originally indicted. Colonel Makenga - an ethnic Tutsi who, after fighting alongside Ntaganda in Rwanda,fell out with "The Terminator" over Nkunda's overthrow - as leader of the M23 movement. As the CNDP army defectors left their positions in April, militia moved in. Across the region, armed groups have been exploiting the security vacuum to feather their nests, attacking civilians and peacekeepers alike

Colonel Makenga - an ethnic Tutsi who, after fighting alongside Ntaganda in Rwanda,fell out with "The Terminator" over Nkunda's overthrow - as leader of the M23 movement, a reference to March 23, the date of the peace deal signed three years ago. With "The Terminator" in hiding , it is Makenga's M23 rebels - believed to number between 500-600 - who are fighting government troops close to the borders of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.

In a region such as this, where ethnic and political lines dissect official borders, few conflicts are strictly domestic. On May 14, the Congolese defence minister was sent to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi to investigate claims that foreign influence was fuelling the clashes - reasoning that M23 arms must come from somewhere. Defending the rights of Rwandan Tutsis, stabilising the refugee situation, and maintaining control of an illicit trade in metals and minerals are among the reasons why it could be in Rwanda's interest to support the rebels. Rwanda does not want Ntganda tried at the Hague, and some believe President Kagame will use Makenga and M23 as his proxy power, allowing him to find his own solution to Ntaganda's sub-poena - just as Nkunda now lives in Rwanda, despite his international arrest warrant.

In presenting Ntaganda as the sole cause of the conflict transforms complex clashes into a handy dichotomy: the rules of international justice versus the image of impunity for African warlords. If justice cannot be achieved without massive and indiscriminate blood loss, is some degree of impunity for one man - or at least consideration of it - too great a price to pay? If the international community persists in a blinkered pursuit of justice manifested in the arrest of Bosco "The Terminator" Ntaganda  it does so at the risk of taking its eye off the broader crisis unfolding in eastern Congo.

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