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I Can Find an Indicted Warlord. So Why Isn't He in The Hague?

He dines at the finest restaurants. He's a leading military official. He owns a bar, a dairy farm, and a pretty mansion. And the International Criminal Court has a warrant for his arrest. So why isn't Bosco Ntaganda in jail?

Update (3/18/2013): The US State Department confirms that Bosco Ntaganda has turned himself in to the US Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. After entering the embassy, the wanted warlord requested a transfer to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. "We are working to facilitate the requests Ntaganda has made," a State Department spokesperson tells Mother Jones.

Bosco Ntaganda loves a dinner party. Hell, even a brunch party. And pretty much any time of day is perfect at Le Chalet, Goma's premier restaurant, where the inside is all slate floors and licheche-wood furniture and Latin jazz, and outside tables dot a manicured lawn that slopes down to Lake Kivu. It has what may be the best selection of booze—Blue Label, pastis, whatever you like—in this provincial capital in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The chicken samosas in curry sauce with pineapple are delightful. And Bosco, a man about town who owns the bar Kivu Light and the Bunyole cheesery, is a fixture here, enough that the first time I walk in, someone says casually, "Oh! You just missed Bosco."

That's why one Congolese driver told me he couldn't take me around Goma because he would be killed the moment I left. That's why my Congolese sources stay out of nice restaurants, stay out of the city if they can, and when they have to flee the country, they don't tell their families where they've gone or why. That's why one guy I meet wears a light disguise whenever he goes out ("Oh hey!" an old friend says after initially walking right past him. "I didn't recognize you!"): Because recently, Bosco tried to kill him.

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That's not included in the official indictment against Bosco. The warrant (PDF) the International Criminal Court issued for his arrest on August 22, 2006, charged him only with the war crimes of enlisting, conscripting, and using child soldiers back when he was head of military operations for a rebel militia in the early 2000s. These days, he's technically legit, wearing the uniform of a general in the national Congolese army. In 2009, a peace deal (PDF) between Congo and Rwanda folded in the Rwandan-backed Congolese militia he headed, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), which frankly was kicking the national army's ass. Both before and since, the ICC and the United Nations and watchdogs like Human Rights Watch have continued to catalog further atrocities he's alleged to have ordered or participated in: 800 civilians massacred in one town in the Ituri district in 2002; 150 civilians massacred in North Kivu province in 2008; ongoing assassinations and disappearances; ongoing conscription of child soldiers, the very crime he was indicted for. Etcetera.

His last day in Goma, the filmmaker pushed the furniture in his hotel room up against the door, passing the night barricaded behind it, with his eyes wide open and a knife in his hand.

And that's why everyone in this dusty, volcano-fringed capital (PDF) talks like spies. "It's probably best you keep your voice down everywhere all the time while you're here," an American aid worker says the moment we meet. "They have people working everywhere," a Congolese guy tells me, specifically referring to waiters who eavesdrop at bars, saying that when they do you can't leave because it will look suspicious, so you have to always pretend like you don't suspect them, so they won't in turn suspect you. Ex-CNDP soldiers loyal to Bosco are armed and prevalent, in this town of 500,000 and beyond. Consider: This year, when Bosco was implicated in selling $20 million in gold for $7 million in cash to a shady Texas diamond dealer, a Frenchman, and two Nigerians, the regional military spokesperson said it looked like Bosco was smuggling, but really he was just pretending to smuggle to thwart the smugglers. It's all part of the reason why you've never heard of Bosco, why detailed stories about atrocity-witnessing and near escapes and car chases can't be told for the sake of protecting sources. You wouldn't believe the opening we had to cut from this piece. It was about a guy who wanted to tell his story to the world in hopes it would change the "hell" he lives in. But then he was cornered by a soldier who reminded him that it's awfully easy to get killed around here.

So. Take instead what happened to an American filmmaker, now safe at home. Earlier this year, he took it upon himself to shoot mining operations in Goma's province, North Kivu. Here's the thing about that: In 2010, President Joseph Kabila temporarily banned mining in this province and two others, on account of armed groups controlling the mines; an estimated 80 percent of what is mined in Congo is smuggled out, a lot of it from this area on the border with Rwanda. And indeed, there, running the mine (PDF), were officers from the CNDP—sorry, ex-CNDP, since they've technically been integrated into the national army and technically don't operate for their own profit anymore—wearing CNDP uniforms. They were overseeing workers loading coltan (used in consumer electronics) into produce trucks. There, getting it all on camera, the American filmmaker got caught.

The War On Congo's Women: Photos from a country where it's more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier.Photos: The War On Congo's WomenHe managed to escape, but word spread through the command, back to Goma, when he returned. "Soldiers followed me all over town," he says, until he fled to another country. And they didn't even know he also filmed those women who were raped, and people who were shot by ex-CNDP soldiers now in the national army! His last day in Goma, the filmmaker pushed the furniture in his hotel room up against the door, passing the night barricaded behind it, sleepless, with his eyes wide open and a knife in his hand.

He was lucky. "Even if you have a gun, it doesn't mean you cannot die," one Congolese source told me. "You cannot stop them from killing you."

 

Some 4,000 miles away from North Kivu, the International Criminal Court sits in a tall, drab office block rising up against seemingly ever-cloudy Dutch skies. The building at Maanweg 174, The Hague, was previously occupied by a telephone company. Proceedings against warlords take place in three low rooms built into the former parking garage.

The court is slated to get its new digs in 2015; these are the temporary offices of the fledgling institution, which was established in 2002. That's when the requisite 60 countries ratified the treaty that created it, four years after the 1998 UN Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court—which itself had been years in the making—brought 160 governments together to spend a month fighting out the terms. Not everyone agreed that such a court should exist at all. Leading the haters was the United States, which had grave objections to "an arrangement whereby US armed forces operating overseas could be conceivably prosecuted by the international court." But in a decade that saw a couple of high-profile genocides, justice was an especially pressing ideal. As the head of the US delegation summed it up (PDF) to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee afterward, the goal was "accountability, namely to help bring the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes to justice," via "creating a permanent court that could be more quickly available for investigations and prosecutions and more cost-efficient in its operation." Supporters wanted to make international justice swifter than the infamously tardy International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and cheaper than the $1.9 billion, still-ongoing International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

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The International Criminal Court is international, but it's not global. Only the countries shown in red are legally obligated to execute its arrest warrants. And sometimes legal obligations run afoul of political realities.

The delegates decided that there would be three roads to prosecution: A case could be referred to the ICC by a member state; crimes could be referred to the court by the UN Security Council; or the Office of the Prosecutor could launch an investigation on its own. (Well, not all the delegates decided that. The United States—along with China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, and Yemen—voted against the treaty. The US later signed but did not ratify it.) If an ICC investigation finds war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, and the state in which the crimes occur is unwilling or unable to prosecute the case itself, the "court of last resort" can issue warrants of arrest or summonses to appear.

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