THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A former Congo military leader on trial for charges ranging from murder and rape to conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday that he was “a revolutionary, but not a criminal”.
Bosco Ntaganda, who was dubbed “The Terminator” during his period with the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia, insisted that “the Terminator described by the prosecutor is not me” as he delivered a closing statement at the end of his three-year trial.
Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for acts allegedly committed in 2002-2003 when he was deputy Chief of Staff of the UPC, a militia group in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ntaganda surrendered at the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Rwanda in 2013, seven years after his indictment, asking to be turned over to the ICC after apparently having fled Congo due to infighting among military groups.
Prosecutors argued earlier that Ntaganda not only personally committed crimes ranging from murder to rape, sexual enslavement and the use of child soldiers but also ordered and oversaw his troops committing similar atrocities.
They added that Ntaganda’s UPC, dominated by the Hema clan, allegedly targeted the rival Lendu for expulsion from Congo’s mineral-rich Ituri region.
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But his defense has insisted Ntaganda was a loyal and disciplined military commander whose involvement in events “caused fewer victims instead of more”. The UPC commander took measures to prevent crimes and punish perpetrators, defense lawyer Stephane Bourgon said.
Bourgon urged the court to asses Ntaganda’s deeds “based on the evidence, not on the internet” and cast doubt on the reliability of several prosecution witnesses.
Bourgon recalled the recent acquittal on appeal of another Congolese militia leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba.
In that case judges ruled that while atrocities were committed by Bemba’s troops his level of control over his troops was uncertain and he had taken sufficient measures to try and stop them.
No date has been set yet for a verdict in Ntaganda’s trial, with judges saying Thursday “it would certainly take some time” to go over all the case material.
Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg. Editing by Toby Sterling, Richard Balmforth