Ntaganda trial is a test of OTP’s sexual violence strategy

02 September 2015 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

The trial of Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda which opened before the International Criminal Court Wednesday is a test of the prosecutor’s new strategy to look at sexual and gender-based violence in all of the cases [IJT-179].

In this case,  for the first time, the ICC has agreed that sexual violence against child soldiers by their own commanders could constitute a war crime. 

In her opening statement prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said rape and sexual enslavement of Ntaganda’s own soldiers was so prevalent in the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) that the girls were known as “guduria”, a Swahili word for a communal cooking pot. These girls were “reduced to objects which soldiers and commanders could pass around and use for sex whenever they pleased,” she told the judges. The OTP lawyer trying the case, Nicole Samson, later said that rape occurred on such a large scale that the UPC started handing out antibiotics to combat venereal diseases.

“It is certainly not the first case where sexual violence is charged... but there has been no conviction so far,” Mariana Pena of the Open Society Justice Initiative told IJT. “This case is it a test for Bensouda’s new strategy on sexual violence,” she added.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also highlighted the importance of the sexual violence charges in the Ntaganda case. “Given the widespread practice of sexual violence in eastern Congo where rape and sexual slavery are used as weapons of war it is important that this fourth case at the ICC includes charges of sexual violence and rape,” Geraldine Mattioli of HRW’s international justice programme said.

“This trial should be a signal that other leaders who let their troops rape women could face justice,” she told IJT.

The OTP was heavily criticized in the case against Thomas Lubanga – the Congolese warlord and head of the UPC sentenced to 14 years for enlisting child soldiers [IJT-171] – for not including sexual violence in the charges. In the Ntaganda trial, Bensouda has tried to undercut such criticism by focusing on the sexual violence component already in the confirmation of charges hearing. In addition, it has also charged Ntaganda on various modes of liability. So far trial chambers have gone for just one mode of liability, but Ntaganda has been charged on five alternative modes of liability: direct perpetration; indirect co-perpetration; ordering inducing; contribution to the commission of crimes and command responsibility where a military commander is held responsible for the crimes of his subordinates. These alternate modes of liability are also a remnant of the case against Germain Katanga, where the prosecution tried to change the mode of liability halfway which was rejected by the judges [IJT-163]. By casting their net wide the prosecution hopes to avoid a repeat.

For the defence, the wide scope of the charges presents other challenges said Ntaganda’s lawyer, Stephane Bourgon, who characterized the case as “the largest and most complex before the ICC to this day”.

The opening statements continue Wednesday to Friday, and the first witness will take the stand on 15 September.  

Bosco Ntaganda at the start of his trial (Flickr/ ICC-CPI)

Related articles

article
19 February 2007 by Laetitia Grotti

One year ago on January 6, 2006, the 17 members of Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) were closing up shop after submitting their final report to King Mohammed VI. The Moroccan truth commission had received a flood of compliments from the international community praising the recommendations in its report, especially those advocating legislative and constitutional reforms. One year later, however, the results have been rather mixed.

article
11 September 2006 by our correspondent in Arusha

After having tried high-ranking officers, ministers, businessmen, priests, journalists, local officials and militiamen, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is in uncharted waters. On September 11, the most famous rwandese troubadour of his generation will stand trial for genocide. 

article
23 October 2006 by Christine Chaumeau

China is keeping a polite distance from international criminal justice. Beijing is hardly disinterested, but China does want to make sure that these new global mechanisms are not going to infringe upon its sovereignty by delving into particularly sensitive cases such as Tibet. 

article
United Nations Operation in Burundi disarms rebel forces in Mbanda in February 2005 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Martine Perret)
03 June 2015 by Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Over the last month, Burundi has hit the headlines as the president put himself forward to be elected for a controversial third term, resulting in street protests, thousands of refugees who fled instability and an attempted coup. Behind the issues of elections and constitutionalism are also those of justice following Burundi’s long-running civil war. The international community supported an intensive process of negotiation and the signing of the Arusha Accord in 2000. But in the decade and a half since, its provisions on justice have been debated though never fully implemented.

article
06 November 2006 by Pierre Hazan

France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.