Congolese General Bosco Ntaganda, the former rebel leader who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war-crimes charges, should be arrested and prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said.
Ntaganda should be “made to answer for his crimes, rather than being allowed to walk freely,” Anneke van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at the New York-based advocacy group, said in an e-mailed statement today. “He is a threat to the people of eastern Congo and is making a mockery of the Congolese government’s policy of zero tolerance for human-rights abuses.”
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Ntaganda in 2006 for crimes committed in Congo’s northeastern Ituri territory between 2002 and 2003, including the use of child soldiers. The ethnic-Tutsi general is also responsible for abuses as chief of staff of the Rwandan-backed rebel movement of Laurent Nkunda, and more recently as part of the Congolese army, Human Rights Watch said.
Congo’s government has said it won’t apprehend Ntaganda while an operation is under way against the ethnic-Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a rebel group active in eastern Congo. On Oct. 4, Ntaganda traveled around Walikale town center in the North Kivu province with an armed entourage that included other Congolese generals.
Congo’s position on Ntaganda’s ICC arrest warrant hasn’t changed, Communication Minister Lambert Mende said by phone today from Kinshasa, the capital. “We will not open the case against him as long as these operations” against the FDLR are continuing, Mende told reporters in October 2009.
Accusations by Human Rights Watch that Ntaganda was involved in a spate of recent assassinations in eastern Congo would have to be investigated by local authorities, Mende said.
On Oct. 11, French authorities arrested Callixte Mbarushimana, executive secretary of the FDLR, after the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest. Mbarushimana, a Rwandan, is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for attacks committed by FDLR rebels last year in eastern Congo, the ICC said.
The U.S. State Department said today the arrest sends “an important signal that the international community will not tolerate the FDLR’s continuing efforts to destabilize eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo” and that FDLR forces and their dependents should return to Rwanda.
The FDLR has links to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. The UN is providing some logistical support to the army’s offensive against the FDLR, and Human Rights Watch called on the UN to support Congo in arresting Ntaganda.
The office of the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement in New York saying its peacekeeping mission in Congo “has not and will not support any operation in which Mr. Ntaganda plays a command role.”
The statement said the UN has “in the past received assurances from the government of the DRC that Mr. Ntaganda does not play any role” in operations supported by the UN. The UN also said it has no mandate from the Security Council or Congo’s government to arrest Ntaganda.