The International Criminal Court and Atrocities in DRC: A Case Study of the RCD-Goma (Nkunda Faction)/CNDP/M23 Rebel Group

45 Pages Posted: 10 May 2014 Last revised: 8 Oct 2014

Date Written: September 1, 2014


Do International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutions initiated during ongoing conflict prevent, exacerbate, or have no effect on atrocities? I address this question in the context of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by developing a case study of the impact of ICC action vis-à-vis the RCD-Goma (Nkunda faction)/CNDP/M23, a major rebel group active in DRC from 2004 through 2013. Specifically, I analyze the effects of ICC actions, including the unsealing of an ICC arrest warrant for Bosco Ntaganda, at the time a senior commander in the CDNP, in April 2008, the ICC’s first conviction in March 2013, and Ntaganda’s surrender to the ICC in March 2013, on atrocities committed by this group. I employ both quantitative and qualitative analysis. The quantitative component involves interrupted time series analysis of data from the GED and ACLED conflict events databases on attacks against civilians (which I use to proxy atrocities) attributable to the RCD-Goma (Nkunda faction)/CNDP/M23. The qualitative component employs process tracing to test my quantitative findings for spuriousness and identify causal mechanisms linking ICC actions to observed outcomes; the primary data source for this analysis is interviews conducted with former members of the RCD-Goma (Nkunda faction)/CNDP/M23, current and former members of other belligerent groups, civil society activists, and local and international media. My analysis yields three main findings. First, the publication of the arrest warrant for Bosco Ntaganda had no significant effect on violence against civilians, mostly because Ntaganda and other CNDP leaders perceived a low probability of arrest and other future legal sanctions resulting from the warrant. Second, the ICC’s first conviction, for Thomas Lubanga on charges of conscripting child soldiers, was associated with higher levels of violence against civilians, as renewed calls for Ntaganda’s arrest after the Lubganga verdict contributed to the outbreak of the M23 rebellion and increased violence against civilians. Finally, Ntaganda’s voluntary surrender to the ICC was associated with lower levels of violence against civilians, mostly because it significantly weakened the M23. Based on these findings, I suggest a reframing of the debate over the impact of prosecutions to focus on identifying and explaining variation in their impact across stages of the legal process and other relevant categories, rather than whether or if prosecutions generate effects.

Suggested Citation

Broache, Michael, The International Criminal Court and Atrocities in DRC: A Case Study of the RCD-Goma (Nkunda Faction)/CNDP/M23 Rebel Group (September 1, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

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