Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Ntaganda leaves US in a check


Ntaganda is causing the US a dilemma.
Congolese General Bosco Ntaganda, who turned himself in at the American embassy in Kigali on Monday and immediately requested to be transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), was still in town by press time last evening, according to embassy officials. 

Even as pressure mounted on Washington D.C to transfer the former rebel leader to the Hague-based tribunal, American officials said they were still consulting with “different governments” on how to grant Ntaganda’s request.

The US is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC.

Speaking to The New Times last evening, Susan Falatko, the public affairs officer at the US embassy in Kigali, said: “We want to transfer him as soon as possible but we are still working out the details.”

But analysts believe it will be a hard decision. “Contrary to popular perception, the Americans’ decision to transfer Ntaganda will not be clear-cut,” said a Kigali-based lawyer.

The Washington dilemma

Observers reckon the US, that has publicly supported ICC indictments, will think twice before handing Ntaganda over to the ICC since doing so would set a legal precedent, which might influence how Washington D.C cooperates with the court in the future.

Ntaganda, 40, who arrived at the embassy Monday morning from the volatile eastern DRC, was promoted to the rank of general in DRC’s armed forces a few years after the ICC issued his arrest warrant.

He fell out with President Joseph Kabila early last year after the latter seemed to bow to international pressure to arrest the former rebel leader, who had rejoined the 

Government under a March 2009 peace deal.

Since then, Ntaganda kept a low profile despite repeatedly being linked with the M23 rebellion in eastern DR Congo, which broke out around the same time he deserted from the army.

But in the days leading up to his surrender, a split within M23 saw its military commander, Col. Sultan Makenga, dismiss Bishop Jean Runiga, who was believed to be in favour of a hard-line stance in the ongoing peace talks with Kinshasa and working closely with Ntaganda. 

Runiga, along with an estimated 700 loyalist fighters crossed into Rwanda on Saturday after they were uprooted by rival M23 fighters, sparking speculation that Ntaganda moved deep into DRC jungles without protection.

While the US had put a $5 million bounty on Ntaganda’s head, his surrender to the Americans is the last thing they expected. 

“By refusing to submit to the ICC, the Americans were protecting their country and its citizens; since this case concerns neither, the principle of precedent may look far-fetched but it might still put them in an awkward situation in the future with regard to the ICC,” Jean Damascene Bizimana, an expert of international law.

Third party state

Like the US, Rwanda is not a signatory to the Rome Statute either. Kigali has said it has nothing to do with the fate of Ntaganda. 

Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said yesterday, “It is a matter for the US, who are holding the suspect, the DRC–the country whose nationality the suspect holds – and the ICC.” 

DRC signed the documents establishing the ICC.

Some analysts have suggested that the Americans could turn to a third party – a country which signed the Rome Statute, and is bound to enforce the warrants.

However, Bizimana does not find any difference between the US using a third party to transfer the wanted warlord and transferring him themselves.

The US can also try Ntaganda in its own courts based on other relevant international treaties it ratified, analysts say, but argue, that is less likely.

Transfer possible

However, Laurent Nkongori, a Kigali-based rights lawyer, reckons the US could still transfer Ntaganda to the ICC without bearing any legal dilemma. 

“He’s the one who requested for the transfer. The degree of submission by the US to the court is very minimal in this context; their role is simply to transport him,” Nkongori said.

Meanwhile, world leaders and activists have mounted pressure on the US to expedite Ntaganda’s transfer.

British Foreign minister William Hague twitted yesterday, “Surrender of war crimes indictee Bosco Ntaganda, a huge moment for victims of conflict in DRC. I urge his speedy transfer to the ICC.”


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