April 13, 2012 1 Comment
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
I guess only when something directly affects you, then you’ll do something about it. This is the case with President Joseph Kabila ordering the long-awaited arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda after 600 Congolese soldiers deserted their posts this week. With the recent guilty verdict of Thomas Lubanga, the ICC and human rights activists have pressured Congo to follow suit with Ntaganda. Not only does Kabila make it clear that “he will not work under foreign pressure [even though they] have more than a hundred reasons to arrest him,” but his arrest is much more complicated and holds significant implications for the country’s stability.
The defecting soldiers are a mix of former rebels, including loyal members of the former Rwandan-backed rebel group turned political party, National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which Ntaganda led. Under the 2009 peace deal designed to end the conflict in eastern Congo and an effort to distill rebellion, former CNDP rebels were integrated into the national army and Ntaganda was made general in the Congolese army and deputy commander of a joint UN/Congolese operation. Thus, allthough Ntaganda or ‘The Terminator’ has been wanted by the ICC since 2006 for war crimes, massacring villages, raping civilians, recuriting child soldiers, and a key figure for the persistent unrest in the East, he is considered a strategic component of maintaining order among the most significant former rebel group.
“From his point of view, the message he wants to get across is that if you try to arrest me, I will react violently. So whereas Bosco may be the linchpin of this whole situation, there is a broad alliance of people who are linked to him; that means any action by Bosco or against Bosco could very quickly escalate throughout the provinces,” Jason Stearns, the director of the Usalama Project, which researches conflict in eastern Congo.
As if to throw another curve-ball into the already extermely complex situation, Ntaganda supported President Kabila’s re-election in a small area of the eastern Congo, which may have added to the president’s reluctance to turn him over to the ICC, but after observers widely condemned the vote as flawed, Kabila has sought to reassert his authority and prove his legitimacy to the international community.
I believe that Ntaganda’s arrest could threaten a fragile peace but the much more colossal issue in DRC is the never-ending impunity that fuels the relentless killings, unrest, and human rights abuses by all parties. The government has previously refused to arrest Ntaganda, on the grounds that peace is more important than justice. Is it better to maintain the status quo and prevent rebellion once again or should we risk uprisings and further violence in the name of justice, trying to establish accountability and rule of law in a country that needs it most?
Just to follow-up, Wednesday also saw the collapse of Frederick Mwenengabo, the Congolese-Canadian who has been on a hunger strike for 38 days to protest against human rights abuses in Congo; he is being treated in the hospital.