International Criminal Court on Monday convicted a notorious rebel commander known as “The Terminator” of 18 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape and sexual slavery in Congo
ICC found Rwandan born warlord Bosco Ntaganda who directed a massacre of men and women found disemboweled or with their heads crushed guilty of crimes against humanity
Ntaganda, 45, leader of ethnic Tutsi revolts in DRC was found guilty of giving orders to his men to perpetrate acts of genocide against the civilian population including children and infants
He recruited child soldiers and gave ‘direct orders to target and kill’ non-combatants in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri region in 2002 – 2003
Other charges include murder, rape, sexual slavery and recruiting child soldiers
The conviction is seen as a much-needed win for the court that has drawn fire
He faces up to a life time behind bars at sentencing which has been scheduled for a later date
The International Criminal Court on Monday convicted the notorious rebel commander known as “The Terminator” of 18 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape and sexual slavery for his role in atrocities in an ethnic conflict in a mineral-rich region of Congo in 2002-2003.
13 years after he was first indicted, The ICC found Bosco Ntaganda guilty on Monday.
His forces carried out horrific attacks including one in a banana field that left babies and children disemboweled or with their heads smashed in, judges said.
The 45-year-old was a ‘key leader’ who recruited child soldiers and gave ‘direct orders to target and kill’ non-combatants in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri region in 2002 and 2003.
Ntaganda was found guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, directing attacks against civilians, displacing civilians, rape, sexual slavery and enlisting children under the age of 15.
‘Mr Ntaganda rallied the troops prior to battle, he gave direct orders to the troops during operations, and he debriefed them afterwards,’ head judge Robert Fremr said.
Rwandan-born Ntaganda will be sentenced at a later date after judges hear submissions from victims. Judges can give a life sentence.
Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth hailed the verdict as ‘big win for the survivors’, while the International Federation of Human Rights [FIDH]said it was a ‘day of joy for Ituri victims.’
Debonair Ntaganda, known for his pencil mustache and a penchant for fine dining, proclaimed his innocence throughout the trial, insisting that he was ‘soldier not a criminal’ and that the ‘Terminator’ nickname did not apply to him.
Prosecutors portrayed him as the ruthless leader of ethnic Tutsi revolts amid the civil wars that wracked the DRC after the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda.
Judges said Ntaganda ‘fulfilled a very important military function’ as a leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots rebels and its military wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo [FPLC].
The FPLC killed at least 800 people as it fought rival militias in Ituri for control of valuable minerals. More than 60,000 people have been killed since violence erupted there in 1999.
In one attack directed by Ntaganda, judges said that soldiers killed at least 49 captives in a banana field behind a village, using ‘sticks and batons as well as knives and machetes.’
‘Men, women and children and babies were found in the field. Some bodies were found naked, some had hands tied up, some had their heads crushed. Several bodies were disemboweled or otherwise mutilated,’ Fremr said.
In other attacks women were ‘killed either while resisting rape or after being raped’ while people were forced to dig mass graves that they were later killed and thrown into.
Ntaganda was found guilty of personally shooting dead a Catholic priest and as an ‘indirect perpetrator’ for the other crimes by giving ‘direct orders to target and kill civilians’ and other crimes.
These included recruiting child soldiers who ‘wore uniforms that were often too large for them’ but nevertheless were ‘punished and suffered physical violence’ in the same way as adult soldiers,’ the judgment said.
The judges said it was ‘common for female members to be raped’, including three girls under the age of 15.
Formerly a Congolese army general, Ntaganda who was first indicted in 2006, became a symbol of impunity in Africa, even serving as a general in the Congolese Army, Ntaganda then became a founding member of the M23 rebel group, which was eventually defeated by Congolese government forces in 2013.
He turned himself in 2013 as his power base crumbled.
Later that year he became the first-ever suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC, when he walked into the US embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali and asked to be sent to the court, based in the Netherlands.
In March of that year, Bosco Ntaganda unexpectedly showed up at the United States Embassy in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, where he was taken into custody, after a reward was established for his arrest.
At the time, Mr. Ntaganda had few options: He was coming under attack by fighters in his own rebel group, the M23.
“The Rwandans would have killed him, he knew too much,” said Barnabé Kikaya bin Karubi, Congo’s ambassador to the UK in 2013.
“His only chance to stay alive was to turn himself in to the Americans or whomever,” Karubi said.
Ntaganda is one of five Congolese warlords brought before the ICC, which was set up in 2002 as an independent international body to prosecute those accused of the world’s worst crimes.
He has 30 days to file an appeal.
Ntaganda’s former FPLC commander Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2012.
The ICC has also been criticized for only trying African suspects, and several African countries have threatened to withdraw from the courts’ jurisdiction in recent years, after prosecutors suffered a string of setbacks over recent years with some of its most high-profile suspects walking free.
In January, judges acquitted Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of the Ivory Coast, and a former government minister of involvement in crimes after disputed 2010 elections.
In 2018, a former Congolese vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was acquitted on appeal in connection with crimes that prosecutors said were committed by his militia in the neighboring Central African Republic.
The US administration of President Donald Trump has also warned the court against prosecuting US service members over war crimes in Afghanistan.