The “Terminator,” War Crimes, and the Obama Administration: All Roads Lead to Rome

March 18, 2013

DJ-Fugitives-Infographic BOSCO
Click on the image above to access the full-size infographic

As news breaks about the surrender of the “Terminator,” Bosco Ntaganda, to the United States embassy in Kigali today, the US State Department was quick to note that it “strongly support[s] the ICC and their investigations on the atrocities committed in the DRC.” Further, Ambassador Stephen Rapp, head of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, tweeted “Bosco #Ntaganda surrenders in #Rwanda and asks to the taken to the #ICC. We are helping to facilitate his transfer.”

This development, and the U.S. administration’s quick signaling of its intent to adhere to obligations to transfer Ntaganda to the court to answer charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity is welcome, and encouraging. Thus, I will not start with the call that “the US should take all steps to ensure the speedy transfer of Ntaganda to The Hague.”

What Happened?

Amnesty International, as part of a wide swath of civil society demanding the same, has been campaigning to see the fugitive Ntaganda appear before the ICC for years, as part of its broader effort to demand and secure justice for the Congolese people; it is natural to be curious as to “why now?”

The story behind his surrender to the US embassy will likely take some time to emerge. With reports of in-fighting among the armed M23 group in the DRC, and reports over the weekend that fighters loyal to Ntaganda had been “routed” by a rival faction, it may be that he simply saw the ICC as a safe alternative to the faction’s deteriorating situation. Maybe he was “encouraged” to surrender. I will note that it was interesting—if not telling—that the news of the surrender was first announced by the Rwandan government…but enough speculation.

What I am confident in offering is that his surrender is inseparable from the massive surge in pressure to secure justice for the worst of crimes under the law that is the charge of last resort for the ICC. The cumulative effects of the grassroots movement “Kony2012,” the Bashir Watch and justice for Darfur campaigns, the demands and actions taken to address the crimes in Syria, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere , and indeed the sustained call by activists to see fugitives from the ICC brought to justice (to name just a few), are yielding results.

I am confident that Bosco Ntaganda’s “decision” to surrender for transfer to the Hague wasn’t much of a decision at all; rather, it was the only meaningful option left, given the climate made possible by the strengthened and increasingly global sentiment that the perpetrators of the worst crimes against humanity can no longer enjoy impunity.

What Next?

Now, as for what is next: the US should take all steps to ensure the speedy transfer of Ntaganda to The Hague. As of this afternoon, it looks promising that the US will do so.

While the delivery of Ntaganda to the ICC to face charges for crimes he is accused of committing in the DRC will be yet another step forward for international justice, I needn’t tell this audience that justice for atrocities remains elusive. There are still fugitives from the ICC. There are still unanswered crimes in Sri Lanka, and no justice in sight for tens of thousands of Syrians who face atrocity today.

Yet, the Obama administration can do more than hand over wanted fugitives. By deed and through action, the administration can continue to repair the credibility of the US on the international stage and—as President Obama offered in his second inaugural address—allow the US to serve as a “source of hope” for those who long for “human dignity and justice”.

With the (hopefully) imminent transfer of “the Terminator” to the ICC, President Obama should strengthen the credibility of the US as a source of hope for those who long for justice by reaffirming the United States’ signature to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

You can ask him to do so here

This post is also available in Spanish.