Cost-Benefit Calculations: The Case of Bosco Ntaganda
February 18, 2014
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Last week, the “confirmation of charges” hearing for Bosco Ntaganda, former Congolese rebel leader of the FPLC and the M23, for war crimes concluded at the ICC. The purpose of the hearing was to determine if the Prosecutor’s office, headed by Fatou Bensouda, has enough evidence against Ntaganda to continue to trial.
The case made headlines last year when Ntaganda turned himself in at the American Embassy in Kigali, nearly four years after his indictment was unsealed, and requested to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague. His self-surrender is an interesting data point for considering whether the ICC could act as an effective deterrence mechanism. Ntaganda evidently decided that participating in his trial and being transferred to The Hague was preferable to his options in the Congo, although his reasoning for surrender was a topic of much discussion. The M23 was fracturing, eleven African countries had just signed an accord signaling their commitment to defeating the organization, and UN forces would by the end of 2013 drive the group to surrender.
Ntaganda had lost, militarily and politically, so his surrender meant that he was choosing detention and trial at the ICC over…death at the hands of other M23 factions? Certainly he stood to lose a great deal of power as the M23 split. His claim of indigence at the ICC, despite his rumored wealth, could suggest that he was set to lose financially as well. (Or, it could suggest that he would like to try to hide his wealth in favor of receiving free and high-quality legal representation, which is probably more likely.) Some have also suggested that Ntaganda was pressured by the Rwandan government, which seems credible especially because of the necessary involvement (or at least complicity) of the Rwandan government in allowing him to reach Kigali. Ultimately, however, Ntaganda’s surrender indicates that trial at the ICC is not necessarily considered a significant punishment. Joseph Kony has of course protested his indictment vociferously, but in Ntaganda’s case, transfer to the ICC removed him from a volatile and dangerous environment in which he was on the losing side. If trial at the ICC is viewed as a step above military defeat, rather than as the ultimate humiliation, its deterrent effects are likely minimal