General Bosco Ntaganda, an accused war criminal who has been nicknamed “the Terminator” by Congolese people was detained at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague on March 22, 2013. This ended a saga that has started a few days earlier on March 18, 2013 when the Terminator suddenly appeared at the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda and asked to be transferred to the ICC to be tried. The ICC had issued 2 international arrest warrants against him, the first one in August 2006 and the second one in July 2012. The first arrest warrant was for using child soldiers. The second arrest warrant was for war crimes and crimes against humanity, crimes that included (but not limited to) murder, rape and sexual slavery.
General Ntaganda has not been convicted by the court. Therefore, he should be given the benefit of the doubt for the crimes for which he stands accused. But in a region full of many ruthless warlords, one cannot help but wonder why among all these warlords, the Congolese civilians have singled out General Ntaganda for the nickname of “the Terminator.”
What is historic about this moment is that for the first time in history, a United Nations court has detained a warlord who until a few days ago was fighting on the side of General Kagame of Rwanda. For more than 20 years of warlords led by General Kagame fighting wars in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo DRC, there seemed to have been a blank check as to what these warlords could get away with. Despite multiple United Nations reports of potential war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by General Kagame’s forces, not a finger was lifted against any of them. “The Terminator” will be the first warlord linked to General Kagame to stand in court to defend their actions.
This moment is very significant in the history of Rwanda because it marks a shift from General Kagame’s warlords being considered above the law to the first one among them facing a court of law. No more is it taken for granted that these warlords can just kill and rape countless civilians and get away with it. It is not clear what led “the Terminator” to surrender himself. Nonetheless, it will be forever on the record that at least one of General Kagame’s warlords faced a United Nations court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This will undoubtedly help build a foundation for peace and reconciliation in Rwanda.