This article was first published in AFJN’s January-March Newsletter

By Jacques Bahati, Policy Analyst

On March 18, General Bosco Ntaganda, one of the notorious rebel leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) surrendered himself to the US Embassy in Kigali and specifically requested his transfer to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands. The ICC had issued two arrest warrants one in 2006 and another in 2012 against Bosco.

Four Hundred and eighteen people surveyed the day after General Bosco Ntaganda surrendered strongly believe that his absence on the battle field will neither speed up the peace process ( 9%) nor prevent other militia from committing crime (13%). Instead the majority believe that his surrender is not sufficient to restore peace in the region (78%). (Okapi Radio, March 19, 2013) Now that Bosco is in custody of ICC on March 22, we believe that finally justice will be served. This simply means that proper administration of international law will be applied for Bosco and the victims. It is important, however, to ask ourselves what will the victims, the dead, their families, the affected communities and the Congolese nation, get out of this process.

Choosing to surrender was a winning scenario for Bosco. Prison sentence in the Netherlands is a great deal for him and sounds like vacation to his victims. At the ICC Bosco’s rights include a nice clean jail, good food every day and clean clothes, just to name a few. If convicted and sentenced to life in prison which is the maximum the ICC can do, Bosco will spend his life in these great conditions except for the isolation. He refused to surrender to the Congolese government because he would have been tortured, humiliated, starved and made to live in very bad conditions which are characteristic of prisons in DRC.

This is what happened to Bosco’s former collaborators in Inturi who went through the ICC justice. Matheux Ngudjolo was acquitted. Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in prison some of which will be deducted for the years he spent waiting trail. Germain Katanga is appealing the court’s decision. Trying Bosco outside the DRC will have little if any impact on his victims. He should be tried in DRC, but will not because of an incompetent and corrupt government that maintains an awful judiciary system. On October 1, 2010, a UN group of experts released the Mapping Report, one of the most comprehensive reports on DRC which covered a significant number of crimes that happened in DRC from 1993-2003. The experts recommended, among other things, the creation of a mixed court in DRC which would include criminal justice and restorative justice. This suggestion would achieve several goals including the makeover of the Congolese judicial system, bringing to justice those who committed serious crimes, and starting healing and reconciliation in communities where some of these crimes were committed through restorative justice. The mixed court would include foreign and Congolese lawyers. In 2011 the Justice, Administrative and Political Commission of the Congolese Senate started working on legislation that would enable the creation of this court, but it has not been finished partly because some people in power were involved in some of the crimes. Unless sweeping governance reforms happen in DRC, internal and external security threats will remain. In other words, Bosco, other armed groups and Rwanda’s proxy wars in DRC are a symptom of bad governance. Had the DRC had better institutions Rwanda and Uganda would not have dared to invade the DRC in 1996, an invasion which started the ongoing crisis in eastern DRC.