ICC judges on Monday convicted Congolese rebel chief Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda of war crimes including directing massacres of civilians and rape, in a badly-needed victory for prosecutors in The Hague.
Ntaganda, 45, was a key leader who gave orders to “target and kill civilians” in Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile, mineral-rich Ituri region in 2002 and 2003, head judge Robert Fremr said.
The atrocities included a massacre at a village where people included children and babies were disembowelled or had their heads smashed in, the judge said.
Ntaganda was also responsible for the rape and sexual slavery of underage girls, and of recruiting troops under the age of 15, as well as guilty of personally killing a Roman Catholic priest, the court said.
Ntaganda “fulfilled a very important military function, he was one of the key leaders” of the rebel group, judges said, adding that “Mr Ntaganda’s skills were held in high regard.”
“In relation to these direct orders to target and kill civilians, Mr Ntaganda endorsed criminal conduct by his by own orders.”
Ntaganda will be sentenced at a later date after judges hear submissions from victims.
The soft-spoken Ntaganda — known for his pencil moustache and a penchant for fine dining — told judges during his trial that he was “soldier not a criminal” and that the “Terminator” nickname did not apply to him.
Rwandan-born Ntaganda was found guilty of 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity for his role in the brutal conflict that wracked the northeastern region.
Prosecutors portrayed him as the ruthless leader of ethnic Tutsi revolts amid the wars that wracked the DRC after the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in neighbouring Rwanda.
More than 60,000 people have been killed since the violence erupted in the region in 1999 according to rights groups, as militias battle each other for control of scarce mineral resources.