PARIS - The International Criminal Court has convicted a Congolese warlord nicknamed “The Terminator” on 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ruling delivers an important victory for the ICC's prosecution team following a string of setbacks.
Former Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda listened intently but showed no emotion as Presiding Judge Robert Fremr read out the judgement. He is only the fourth person convicted of war crimes in the ICC’s 17 years of operations.
The ruling finds 45-year-old Ntganda guilty of directly and indirectly committing heinous acts in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern Ituri province in 2002 and 2003, when he headed the Union of Congolese Patriots, or UPC militia movement.
Among the acts: murder, rape, sexual slavery and conscripting child soldiers.
The atrocities aimed to drive the ethnic Lendu population out of Ituri. Judge Fremr recounted how Ntaganda killed an elderly man who served as a local Catholic priest.
He also described another incident in which Ntaganda’s forces rounded up, raped and massacred at least 49 people. The judge said the killers used sticks, batons, knives and machetes to do the job.
“The bodies of those killed — men women, children and babies — were found in the banana field in the next days. Some bodies were found naked; some had their hands tied up, and some had their heads crushed.”
Ntaganda claimed his innocence throughout the trial. He has 30 days to appeal, with sentencing scheduled for a separate hearing. He faces up to life in prison.
Rights groups are cheering the ruling.
“Today is a very important day for justice,” said Maria Elena Vignoli, international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch.
“This long-awaited judgement really provides an important measure of justice for Bosco Ntaganda’s victims in Ituri, and sends a strong message to perpetrators of atrocities that even those believed to be untouchable can one day be held to account,” she said.
The ruling also gives a much-needed boost to ICC prosecutors, after the acquittal of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo earlier this year, and that of former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba on appeal in 2018.
But HRW’s Vignoli said thousands of Congolese victims still await justice for years of atrocities in conflict-torn parts of the country. She said they include some Ntaganda’s forces allegedly committed in DRC’s eastern Kivu provinces and which were not covered in this trial.