By Louise Hogan, Safe World Correspondent. March 2013.
"We always dream to see a woman who can speak for us here because we have seen a lot, we have suffered a lot and yet in silence.."
The 18th of March saw two significant developments for the Great Lakes region in general and the DR Congo peace process in particular. The first, the appointment of former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Irish President Mary Robinson as UN Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region had been widely expected. The second, when Rwandan national and DRC rebel leader indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) Bosco Ntanganda walked into the US Embassy in Kigali and requested to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague, was most definitely not expected.
Robinson’s appointment stems from a rather underwhelming peace agreement signed in February of this year, known as the Framework Agreement. The Agreement was notable for the wide range of actors engaged in the process, including neighbouring countries of the Great Lakes region and also the South African Development Community (SADC), who committed troops to a proposed ‘neutral force’ of 2-4,000 troops due to be deployed to Eastern DRC. The United Nations, the European Union and African Union were also involved in the Agreement. There are few radical moves in the Framework and there was a sizable dose of cynicism from many commentators who questioned the need for another agreement on paper, which has little effect on the ground. However, sources in the DRC, though expressing a healthy dose of cynicism regarding the agreement, were also optimistic about its chances to bring some semblance of peace to the country.
Mary Robinson - Change maker?
Robinson’s appointment has been generally well received, particularly by the people most affected- those living in Eastern DRC.
Sources based in the region told us that women they spoke to in Eastern DRC are hopeful of the potential impact Robinson’s role may achieve:
‘Mary Robinson is known for her commitment to bringing change....
‘She is a strong woman and the women and girls of this area are expecting her to speak for them. We always dream to see a woman who can speak for us here because we have seen a lot, we have suffered a lot and yet in silence.’
People in the region are also encouraged by the fact that the new UN Envoy is Irish, given Ireland’s commitment to peace and stability in the region which stretches back to its first deployment of peacekeepers in the 1960s.
Bosco ‘The Terminator’ Ntaganda - War Criminal?
Sources in the DRC have told us most people there were shocked at Ntaganda handing himself into the US Embassy in Rwanda and requesting to be transferred to the ICC even though neither the US nor Rwanda is a signatory of the Rome Statute.
Ntaganda was a leader of the M23 rebel group, made up of ethnic Tutsis, a faction of soldiers which split from the main DRC army in April last year. Fighting instigated by M23 last year caused the displacement of up to 800,000 people. Although the rebel group seized control of regional capital Goma in November, they subsequently withdrew in December. M23 was not party to the UN brokered peace deal but parallel peace talks between the rebel group and the DRC government continued in Uganda.
In February of this year, disagreement between varying M23 factions about how to react to the framework agreement led to internal violence. Ntaganda’s surrender to the US Embassy is believe to be preceded by the loss of control by his faction of the city Kibumba by the rival Makegna faction, after days of intense fighting.
Ntaganda has been indicted by the ICC since 1996 yet has moved freely in the region and continued, allegedly, to commit atrocities such as recruiting child soldiers. A leaked UN report last year alleged M23 enjoyed the support of the Rwandan government, allegations the Kagame administration strenuously, though disingenuously, denied.
So why has he handed himself in now?
Many are perplexed by Ntaganda’s decision. When reports of his actions first emerged, regional experts such as Laura Seay asserted that anyone claiming Ntaganda handed himself in didn’t know what they were talking about. People in Rwanda and DRC were equally surprised and even now, we can only guess as to the real reasoning behind Ntaganda’s actions.
Some experts, such as Jason Sterns of the Rift Valley Institute, have claimed Ntaganda has fallen out of favour with Kigali and that he was instructed by the Rwandan authorities to hand himself in or that perhaps Ntaganda did so of his own accord, fearful of what would happen if he was arrested by his former Rwanda allies.
Regardless of the reasoning, what matters now is the result. On March 22nd, the Rwandan Foreign Minister announced Ntaganda had been transferred from the country with cooperation from the US and Dutch governments. The ICC later released a statement confirming Ntaganda was in their custody with his initial appearance before the Court scheduled for March 26th. The ICC lost much of the little respect and credibility it had in the DRC with the acquittal in December 2012 of militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui. This may be an opportunity to gain back some support for its investigations into war crimes and prove to people in the DRC that it is capable of delivering justice.
Louise Hogan is a freelance writer and a student at the Irish Centre for Human Rights. She has previously worked with the Strategic Initiative for Women (SIHA) Network in Uganda and for Justice Africa UK in London. Her primary interests include women in conflict, genocide studies, conflict transformation and mass atrocity response operations.
Follow Louise on Twitter @lahogan4