International Criminal Court judges convicted former Congolese military leader Bosco Ntaganda for atrocities including murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers on Monday.
Ntaganda (45) was found guilty for acts committed while military operations chief at the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia in east Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-2003.
His conviction is a rare success for prosecutors at the ICC, an international court set up in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity when member states are unable or unwilling to do so.
Ntaganda’s sentence will be determined at a later hearing.
“The chamber having heard all the evidence mentioned by the parties, finds you as concerns count one, murder as a crime against humanity, guilty,” said judge Robert Fremr, reading a summary of the ruling.
The court then found him guilty on all 18 charges.
His lawyers argued Ntaganda sought to keep order among troops, punishing those who violated the rules of war.
Ntaganda showed no emotion as sentence was read out. He has 30 days to appeal.
In the conflict in Congo, Ntaganda’s UPC, dominated by the Hema clan, targeted rival Lendu people for expulsion from the mineral-rich Ituri region. Hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands forced to flee.
“This ICC decision comforts victims and the whole population of Ituri province, bereaved by the atrocities of Bosco Ntaganda’s rebellion,” said Xavier Macky, director of Justice Plus, a rights group based in provincial capital Bunia.
He called the conviction a “contribution to the war against impunity.”
Ntaganda’s boss, UPC leader Thomas Lubanga, is serving a 14-year prison sentence after his conviction by the ICC.
The court also convicted one of their wartime opponents, Germain Katanga.
The court further convicted Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a Malian who confessed to destroying cultural property, and former Ivory Coast president Jean-Pierre Bemba with Bemba’s conviction overturned on appeal.
An ICC warrant for Ntaganda’s arrest was first issued in 2006 and he turned himself in at the US Embassy in Rwanda in 2013, apparently having fled Congo due to infighting among military groups.
Judge Fremr paused at times during his summary to cite specific instances of acts Ntaganda was responsible for, such as personal calls for children to join his forces, as well as killings by his men, including a pregnant woman kept in a pit.
“Rape was common practice,” he said, citing an incident of a nine-year-old girl raped by fighters under his command.