The International Criminal Court has sentenced a Congolese warlord known as “the Terminator” to 30 years in jail after he was convicted of crimes including murder, rape and sexual slavery.
The sentence was the highest ever passed by the court.
Bosco Ntaganda was found guilty in July of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as a military commander in atrocities in an ethnic conflict in a mineral-rich region of DR Congo in 2002-2003.
Ntaganda showed no emotion as Presiding Judge Robert Fremr passed sentences ranging from eight years to 30 years for individual crimes and an overarching sentence of 30 years.
The court’s maximum sentence is 30 years although judges also have the discretion to impose a life sentence.
Ida Sawyer, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, welcomed the ruling.
“Bosco Ntaganda’s 30-year sentence sends a strong message that even people considered untouchable may one day be held to account,” Ms Sawyer said. “While his victims’ pain cannot be erased, they can take some comfort in seeing justice prevail.”
Ntaganda, who has insisted he is innocent, became a symbol for widespread impunity in Africa in the seven years between first being indicted by the global court and finally turning himself in in 2013 as his power base fell apart.
Judges at his trial said he was guilty as a direct perpetrator or a co-perpetrator of a string of crimes including murders, rapes of men and women, a massacre in a banana field behind a building called The Paradiso and of enlisting and using child soldiers.
Child soldiers were raped by Ntaganda’s troops and forced into sexual slavery, leaving them with lasting physical and psychological scars, the court heard. Ntaganda used child soldiers as bodyguards.
He testified for weeks in his own defence, saying he wanted to put the record straight about his reputation as a ruthless military leader but was unable to convince the three-judge panel of his innocence.
Ntaganda was the deputy chief of staff and commander of operations for rebel group the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo.
The force’s leader, Thomas Lubanga, was convicted by the ICC in 2012 of using child soldiers. He is serving a 14-year prison sentence.
Ntaganda earned a higher sentence because he was convicted of far more crimes.
He has 30 days to appeal against his sentence.