Special Reports

The Imperfect Trial of Congo’s ‘Terminator’


When Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda’s war crimes trial opened in The Hague last month, most of his victims were nearly 4,000 miles away in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unable to watch the proceedings in person, some of them tuned in from a gas station in the provincial capital of Goma.

Nicknamed “the Terminator” for his alleged brutality, Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, sexual enslavement, and destruction of enemy property. He is thought to have been involved in multiple rebel movements in Rwanda and Congo going back as far as 1990, when he was still a teenager. More than 5 million people have died in eastern Congo since 1996, when a Rwandan invasion sparked a regional conflagration that eventually drew in nine countries and dozens of rebel groups. It has been described as “Africa’s World War.”

One of the most brutal of these rebel groups was the M23. In 2012, Ntaganda helped the M23 as it seized control of Goma, only to become embroiled in a leadership dispute that would eventually split the movement in two. The Terminator’s rein of terror came to an end in 2013, when he abruptly turned himself in to the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, apparently fearing for his life. On Sept. 15, the first witness took the stand to testify against him at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Unsurprisingly, the proceedings have attracted considerable attention in Congo. During the trial’s early days, people in the country’s east huddled around TVs and radios, glued to the opening statements. In Goma, every local radio station broadcast the first two days of the trial live. A major regional cell-phone provider, Tigo, enabled streaming through its free Facebook app so that people could watch on their devices, at home, in shops, and in public gathering places.

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