Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda must face justice

The arrest of General Laurent Nkunda – the former leader of an armed militia group operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – should be followed by swift steps to prosecute him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, said Amnesty International today.

General Laurent Nkunda, the former leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) was arrested on 22 January and is currently being detained at an undisclosed location in Rwanda.

Members of the CNDP and previous armed groups led by Laurent Nkunda have been accused of war crimes and other serious human rights abuses by the UN, national and international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International.

These allegations include the recruitment and use of child soldiers, unlawful killings and systematic rape of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls.

Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen said:

“The Rwandan government must immediately clarify on what charges and in what circumstances it’s holding Laurent Nkunda. It should then swiftly declare how it intends to ensure that he is prosecuted in a fair trial.

“If they fail to do so, then the International Criminal Court (ICC) should use its powers of jurisdiction to investigate this case and seek to prosecute General Nkunda on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The ICC Prosecutor has been investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity across the DRC – mainly in the Ituri region since 2004 – and since then has sought and obtained arrest warrants for other suspected perpetrators.

Kate Allen added:

“Laurent Nkunda has been subject to an international arrest warrant since September 2005 which the DRC authorities issued for charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and insurrection.

“In spite of these multiple accusations, General Nkunda has been able to evade justice for several years and to move freely between his base in eastern DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.

“This has to come to an end. General Nkunda should no longer be allowed to make a mockery of international justice – he must be held to account for his actions. “
Although Laurent Nkunda may be extradited from Rwanda to the DRC, he is unlikely to receive a fair trial in the DRC.

The DRC criminal justice system is characterised by a lack of independence of the judiciary – particularly in military courts – routine torture and ill-treatment in detention, inhumane prison conditions and prolonged detention without trial. The country also retains the death penalty. Regularly witnesses and lawyers do not receive adequate protection and are routinely threatened and attacked.

Laurent Nkunda’s sudden downfall contrasts with the rise of Bosco Ntaganda, the new leader of the CNDP and Laurent Nkunda’s former Chief-of-Staff, who now appears to enjoy the full confidence of the DRC and Rwandan governments.

Bosco Ntaganda is the subject of an ICC arrest warrant issued under seal in August 2006 and made public on 28 April 2008 for the war crime of recruiting and using child soldiers in the Ituri region of eastern DRC between July 2002 and December 2003.

He also reportedly commanded CNDP fighters who unlawfully killed scores of civilians in Kiwanja, North Kivu province, eastern DRC, in November 2008.

The DRC government is under a legal obligation to arrest and surrender anyone named in arrest warrants issued by the ICC. However, on 16 January, shortly after he had announced that he had deposed Laurent Nkunda as head of the CNDP, Bosco Ntaganda appeared publicly in Goma alongside the DRC Minister of Interior, Célestin Mbuyu Kabango, and senior DRC army officers to declare an end to the CNDP rebellion and commit his forces to the joint DRC and Rwandan government military operation against the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) armed group. James Kabarebe, the Rwandan army Chief of Staff, attended the same event.

Kate Allen continued:

“Time and again, justice has been sacrificed to the interests of political and military expediency in the DRC.

“Persistent impunity is one of the major reasons why war crimes and crimes against humanity carry on occurring there on such a large scale.

“Such acts will not stop until regional governments and the international community demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to bring to justice all those responsible for these most serious crimes.”

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