Another Congolese Warlord in ICC Custody — and Sloppy Reporting by the ICC

by Kevin Jon Heller

The ICC has a third suspect in custody. Not surprisingly, he’s another Congolese rebel:

Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, a Congolese national and alleged former leader of the National integrationist Front (FNI) and currently a Colonel in the National Army of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo [Forces armées de la RDC/ Armed Forces of the DRC ] (FARDC), was arrested yesterday by the Congolese authorities and transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). He will be arriving today to the Detention Centre of the Court, in The Hague. Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui is alleged to have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes as set out in articles 7 and 8 of the Statute, committed in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since July 2002.

Ngudjolo is charged with three counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, sexual slavery, and inhumane acts (the dreaded catch-all provision); and six counts of war crimes, including wilful killing, using child soldiers, sexual slavery, attacking civilian populations, and pillaging. Here is the ICC’s summary of the factual allegations underlying the charges:

The Pre-Trial Chamber I found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, as the highest ranking FNI commander, played an essential role in designing and implementing an indiscriminate attack against the village of Bogoro, in the territory of Ituri, on or around 24 February 2003.

The Chamber also found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that during and after the attack on the village of Bogoro against civilians, primarily of Hema ethnicity, with the active participation of children under the age of fifteen years, several criminal acts were committed: the murder of about 200 civilians; causing serious bodily harm to civilians; arresting, threatening with weapons and imprisoning civilians in a room filled with corpses; pillaging; sexual enslavement of several women and girls.

The Chamber further found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that a common plan to carry out an attack on Bogoro was agreed upon by Ngudjolo Chui and other senior FNI and FRPI (Force de résistance patriotique en Ituri/ Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri) military commanders, and that the criminal acts committed during and after the attack were part of the common plan or, were, at the very least, a probable and accepted consequence of the implementation of the said common plan.

Again, according to the Chamber, there were reasonable grounds to believe that the attack on the village of Bogoro took place in the context of an armed conflict in the territory of Ituri, and that the attack was jointly launched by the FNI and the FRPI as part of a systematic or widespread attack directed against the civilian population of certain parts of the territory of Ituri, primarily of Hema ethnicity, between January and at least March 2003.

Ngudjolo’s arrest continues the Prosecutor’s single-minded focus on Congolese rebels — all three of the suspects currently in custody (the others are Germain Katanga and Thomas Lubanga Dyilo) were rebel warlords. As I have noted before, that focus is difficult to understand, given that government forces are no less responsible for the atrocities committed in the DRC. Indeed, I can’t help but wonder whether unease with the free pass the Prosecutor has given the Congolese government to date explains why the ICC Press Release describes Ngudjolo as “currently a Colonel in the National Army of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” making it seem like the Prosecutor is finally going after a government soldier. That description, unfortunately, is misleading at best. Ngudjolo was not a colonel in the National Army when he allegedly committed the atrocities, nor was he a colonel when he was arrested. Instead, he was training to become a colonel in the National Army as part of a peace deal with the Congolese government:

Just days ago it was a different story for Ngudjolo, a former nurse from Bunia whom ICC prosecutors accuse of six counts of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity in connection with an attack on a village in Ituri. He and two other top rebel leaders from Ituri were in the capital to undergo military training after agreeing to demobilise as paramilitaries and accept jobs as colonels in the regular army.

All three have been accused of war crimes, and the idea that they should simply be incorporated into the DRC military with apparent impunity was controversial both in the country and abroad.

Human rights activists applauded Ngudjolo’s arrest, saying it sent an important signal to those in Congo who consider themselves untouchable.

“We have condemned this cycle of impunity in the DRC whereby warlords – instead of being prosecuted for the crimes they committed against civilians – are being promoted. It has been a common practice in Congo to reward war criminals with positions in the army,” said Geraldine Mattioli from Human Rights Watch.

“It sends the wrong signal to warlords – that committing crimes is a good way to get to the top of the army.”

HRW is certainly correct that Ngujdolo’s arrest may help deter the Congolese government from using army positions as bargaining chips with criminally-minded warlords. And that is a good thing. But unless his arrest somehow disrupts the peace process, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that this was essentially costless PR for the Congolese government: they not only purged a recruit who was causing international controversy, they appeared — thanks to sloppy reporting by the ICC — to be so committed to cooperating with the ICC that they would even turn over one of their own.

Nothing, of course, is further from the truth. And I imagine the ICC knows it.

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