GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - The International Criminal Court's conviction of Bosco Ntaganda on war crimes charges is drawing applause from former child soldiers who say they were forced to commit horrendous acts while part of his rebel group.
This week, The Hague-based ICC found the former Congolese rebel leader guilty on 18 counts of murder, rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers, stemming from actions that took place in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003.
Some of Ntaganda's former child soldiers are now being rehabilitated at the Jericho Foundation center in Goma, the capital of Congo's North Kivu province. Toussaint Kampara is one of them.
"The ruling against Ntaganda is good," he told VOA. "The ruling should act as a wakeup call for those still involved in armed violence. Rebel group commanders should borrow a leaf from what happened to Ntaganda, who did so many heinous acts during his time."
Another former child soldier, Katambwe Shabani, said Ntaganda's conviction gives him relief, although he believes Ntaganda was following orders from Congolese politicians.
"In my opinion the charges against Bosco Ntaganda were serious, but most of the time he was being ordered by those who were in top position at that time in the country. He was being ordered to do things like killing people; that is why he is in jail today," he told VOA.
He added, "I am very happy. The situation was very bad. We did so many bad things — you cannot imagine that such brutal things can be done to a human being."
Kampara, Shabani and other former child soldiers have received counseling and vocational training at the Jericho Foundation center, so they can transition back into society.
But Kampara said he bears psychological scars from his time with Ntaganda.
"Honestly, what I did when I was in the bush were horrible things. I used to abduct women and girls and sometimes kill them. It was a battleground. I really felt bad with what I did in the bush. I had to repent for my sins," he said.
Congolese women's rights activist Florence Bunyere said she hopes the ICC hands Ntaganda a long prison sentence.
"Ntaganda deserves maximum punishment for enslaving women and girls, including rape. He forced them to be informants. He deserves stiff punishment, which will serve as a lesson to others," she said.
Jericho Foundation director Pascal Bakenga Safari said he hopes the ICC conviction of Bosco Ntaganda will deter others from using children in war.
"The ruling is welcome because things were very bad. Ntaganda was also charged for recruiting child soldiers and that is unacceptable. Children are not required to be in the army but in the society," he said.
"The task ahead is for the government to work with international organizations to eliminate recruitment of child soldiers in armed groups. The government needs to have a better plan and strategy on how to eliminate this trend."