The allegations against Bosco Ntaganda were made at the opening of
hearings seen as a test for the global legal institution after a
string of troubled cases. Ntaganda has yet to enter a plea.
"He played a key role in planning assaults against the civilian
population in order to gain territory," said Chief Prosecutor Fatou
Bensouda, setting out her arguments to judges who will decide if
there is enough evidence for Ntaganda to stand trial.
Ntaganda was a senior military commander who should also be punished
because he "failed to prevent or punish crimes by troops under his
effective command or control," she said.
Ntaganda, an ethnic Hema, is accused of crimes against humanity and
war crimes including murder and rape, all allegedly committed during
a 2002-03 conflict in the mineral-rich east of the Democratic
Republic of Congo.
The crimes were committed against the Lendu population and other
ethnic groups in a bid to drive them out of the Ituri region over 12
months from September 2002, said the prosecutor.
Ntaganda, a tall, slight man with a pencil-line moustache, rose
briefly at the start of the hearing, speaking in his native
Kinyarwanda tongue to confirm his identity.
Ntaganda handed himself in to the U.S. embassy in the Rwandan
capital Kigali last March after a 15-year career as a commander in a
series of rebellions in Congo's Ituri province.
Shortly after his arrival in The Hague, prosecutors asked judges for
more time to rebuild a case which had been dormant for five years
while Ntaganda was on the run.
The session will be a test of prosecutor Bensouda's promise last
year that cases will be "trial ready" by the time they come to court — an implicit response to criticisms by academics and member states
of earlier cases which collapsed when judges ruled evidence was not
The court, 11 years old this year, has handed down just one
conviction — jailing another Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, for
14 years in 2012 for using child soldiers.
[to top of second column]
"The court is struggling, and the prosecutor, with her new strategy,
has been trying to turn something around," said Bill Schabas,
professor of international law at England's Middlesex University.
"The new strategy was a good sign, showing there was a sense of
dissatisfaction with how things were going," he added.
Judges are due to decide over the next few weeks whether to suspend
their most high profile current case — against Kenya's president on
charges of orchestrating violence following 2007 elections — after
prosecutors said several witnesses had withdrawn. Uhuru Kenyatta
denies the charges.
Two other prominent figures facing charges — Sudan's President Omar
Hassan al-Bashir and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the ousted Libyan
leader — remain beyond the court's reach because their countries
refuse to surrender them.
Wars in Congo have killed about five million people in the past
decade and a half, and many eastern areas are still afflicted by
violence from a number of rebel groups despite a decade-old U.N.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; editing by Andrew Heavens)
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