A Congolese militia leader widely known as "the Terminator" led fighters, including child soldiers, in a campaign of ethnically motivated rape and murder, the International Criminal Court was told yesterday.
Prosecutors told judges that Bosco Ntaganda had committed the crimes while leading fighters of Hema ethnicity to drive ethnic Lendus out of the mineral-rich Ituri region in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo over a decade ago.
"He played a key role in planning assaults against the civilian population in order to gain territory," Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges who will decide if there is enough evidence for Ntaganda to stand trial.
Ntaganda, who commanded the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia, had "failed to prevent or punish crimes by troops under his effective command or control", she said. But defence lawyers responded that the Ituri conflict had not had the ethnic character prosecutors were ascribing to it.
"The UPC was not a Hema militia - several commanders belonged to other ethnic groups, including those who took part in the events that form the basis for the charges today," said defence lawyer Marc Desalliers.
"The person before you is not Hema, and nor is he from the Ituri region. He grew up in the North Kivu province, he belongs to the Tutsi ethnic group."
Ntaganda, who has yet to enter a plea, is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder and rape, all allegedly committed during a 2002-03 conflict in the east of the country.
"Victims were killed by bullets, by arrows, by nail-studded sticks," said Dmytro Surprun, a lawyer representing victims of the alleged crimes. "Most of them were mutilated, some were decapitated, and their head borne as a trophy."
Ntaganda's lawyers said the militia was defending local civilian populations at a time when Congolese authorities were "absent from the region and even contributing" to the violence.
Wars in Congo have killed about 5 million people in the last 15 years. and many eastern areas are still afflicted by violence from a number of rebel groups despite a UN peacekeeping mission.