A former rebel leader known as “The Terminator” has denied involvement in atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) at the conclusion of his three-year trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“The Terminator described by the prosecutor is not me,” Bosco Ntaganda, who faces charges ranging from murder and rape to conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery, told judges in his closing statement on Thursday.
“I am a revolutionary, but I am not a criminal,” he said, speaking in his native Kinyarwanda tongue. “I am at peace with myself. These allegations are nothing more than lies.”
Thirteen counts of war crimes and five crimes against humanity were allegedly committed in 2002 and 2003 in the Ituri region of northeastern DRC when he was a commander of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
Prosecutors argued earlier that Ntaganda not only personally committed crimes, but also ordered and oversaw his troops committing similar atrocities.
But his defence has insisted Ntaganda was a loyal and disciplined commander whose involvement in events “caused fewer victims instead of more”.
Ntaganda took measures to prevent crimes and punish perpetrators, said Stephane Bourgon, his lawyer.
Bourgon urged the court to assess Ntaganda’s deeds “based on the evidence, not on the internet” and cast doubt on the reliability of several prosecution witnesses.
The lawyer recalled the recent acquittal on appeal of another Congolese militia leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba.
In that case, judges ruled that while atrocities were committed by Bemba’s troops in neighbouring Central African Republic his level of control over his troops was uncertain and he had taken sufficient measures to try and stop them.
No date has been set yet for a verdict in Ntaganda’s trial, with judges saying on Thursday “it would certainly take some time” to go over all the case material.
Ntaganda faces a maximum life sentence if he is convicted.
He was first indicted in 2006 and surrendered at the US embassy in neighbouring Rwanda in 2013, asking to be turned over to the ICC after apparently having fled DRC due to infighting among rebel groups.