The warlord who surrendered to the U.S. embassy

The warlord who surrendered to the U.S. embassy

Today brought the startling news that Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda has presented himself to the U.S. embassy in Kigali and asked to be transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Ntaganda has been a leader of the M23 rebel movement in eastern Congo, which has reportedly enjoyed support from the Rwandan government (although Rwanda has vehemently denied this). The ICC issued a sealed arrest warrant for him in January 2006. Two years later, the court made the arrest warrant public.

To this point, Ntaganda has mostly lived openly in eastern Congo, where the Congolese government lacked the wherewithal and inclination to challenge him directly. His fortunes began to change recently, however, as the M23 militia movement clashed directly with government forces — and then apparently splintered from within. The Rwandan government first reported the news that Ntaganda had made his way to Kigali and presented himself to the U.S. embassy.

Neither Rwanda nor the United States is an ICC member and neither has a legal obligation to effect the warlord’s transfer. U.S. law limits official cooperation with the court and prohibits the provision of funds to the court. The law — the American Service-members’ Protection Act — also prohibits the U.S. government from transferring any Americans to the court, but there is no explicit prohibition on U.S. involvement in transferring non-U.S. citizens.

That legislation notwithstanding, the U.S. approach to the court  has been gradually evolving from the outright hostility on display during the Bush  administration’s first term. In 2005, the United States allowed a Security Council referral of Darfur to the ICC. Shortly after it took office, the Obama administration began attending annual meetings of ICC members. In 2011, it voted affirmatively to refer the Libya case to the court.

To this point, however, the United States has not been directly involved (at least publicly) in the transfer of indictees to the ICC. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland reported today that the United States "strongly supports" the ICC investigation in Congo and is seeking to facilitate Ntaganda’s transfer to the Hague. Whether the United States will seek to involve another government as an intermediary and whether the Rwandan authorities will cooperate with the transfer remains to be seen.