At the arraignment, journalist Marlise Simmons reported that Ntaganda seemed uncomfortable but still sparked surprise amongst observers by requesting his release until the start of the trial—highly unlikely for a warlord who has been fleeing the courts for years.
The ICC issued the original warrant for Ntaganda’s arrest in 2006, but the Congolese government had declined to apprehend him, claiming he was instrumental to the fragile “peace” in the country.
Ntaganda continued to perpetrate well-documented crimes against humanity in plain view of government officials, foreign diplomats, and UN peacekeepers in eastern Congo. He was filmed, for example, commanding rebel forces in Kiwanga, where rebels massacred 150 people less than a mile from a UN peacekeeping base in November 2008.
A peace deal in 2009 made Bosco Ntaganda a general in the Congolese army. Eventually, however, he became unsatisfied with the situation, defected, and with other military defectors formed the rebel group M23 in April 2012. For the past year he has been accused of committing the same crimes he is wanted for by the ICC, perhaps on an even grander scale.
But the union was not to last. A recent splintering of the M23 last month brought renewed conflict in eastern Congo between rival M23 factions. Ntaganda lost ground with his group and, according to the breakaway rebel leader Colonel Kahina, was shot at last week.
With the group turning against him, did Ntaganda see no way to save his own life but to surrender himself to the ICC?
The repercussions of Ntaganda’s surrender will also impact Paul Kagame’s regime in Rwanda. Kagame has been accused by many of capitalizing on sales of precious minerals funneled through Ntaganda’s various rebel groups, and Ntaganda’s ICC trial may well produce incriminating evidence against Rwandan officials. If Ntaganda can fork over evidence against his former patrons, he may well secure a lighter sentence for himself.
Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.