Court hears DRC war crimes suspect drugged child soldiers
Victims’ lawyer tells International Criminal Court that Ntaganda conducted a reign of terror in 2002 and 2003
Former Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda plied child soldiers in his rebel army with drugs and alcohol before sending them to murder his enemies, the International Criminal Court (ICC) heard on Wednesday.
A lawyer representing 283 victims in the case said Ntaganda was "directly involved in the recruitment of thousands of children" in his forces, which conducted a reign of terror in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2002 and 2003. Afterwards Ntaganda used child soldiers "to participate, under the spell of alcohol and drugs ... to kill, rape and pillage the enemy", said lawyer Sarah Pellet.
Judges at the Hague-based ICC are listening to a second day of closing statements in the case against the man nicknamed "The Terminator".
Prosecutors say Ntaganda’s army ravaged the mineral-rich Ituri region more than 15 years ago. He faces 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity for his role in the conflict.
The alleged crimes include murder, rape, sexual slavery and recruiting children under the age of 15 to serve in his Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
Pellet said on Wednesday the victims "were expecting justice" even after 15 years.
"It is time for the victims to put the past behind them and move forward and build their future. This will be by way of a guilty verdict," she said.
On Tuesday, prosecutors said Ntaganda was central to planning operations for the Union of Congolese Patriots and its military wing, the FPLC. Known as a charismatic commander, he used child soldiers, coerced female soldiers into sexual slavery and attacked civilians on ethnic grounds.
Prosecutors, who showed shocking images of the disembowelled bodies of victims, who also had their throats slit, also asked for a guilty verdict.
At least 800 people were killed by the FPLC as it battled rival militias for control of the volatile area, prosecutors said.
But during his trial the soft-spoken Ntaganda told judges he was a "soldier, not a criminal".
The first suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC, Ntaganda walked into the US embassy in Kigali in 2013 and asked to be sent to the court.
More than 60,000 people have been killed since violence erupted in Ituri in 1999, according to rights groups.
This week’s hearings will run until Thursday, with Ntaganda expected to make a statement towards the end of the hearing.