THE HAGUE: A Congolese rebel chief nicknamed the Terminator received a 30-year jail term from the International Criminal Court on Thursday for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the longest ever sentence given out by the tribunal.
Bosco Ntaganda was convicted in July of offences including murder, sexual slavery and using child soldiers in a mineral-rich region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the early 2000s.
Most of the charges against Rwandan-born Ntaganda, 46, related to a series of gruesome massacres of villagers carried out by his fighters.
“Murder was committed on a large scale,” presiding judge Robert Flemr said, adding that the Hague-based court had taken the “particular cruelty” of some of Ntaganda’s actions into account. “The overall sentence imposed on you shall therefore be 30 years of imprisonment.”
Judges gave him the maximum possible sentence in terms of the number of years but said that “despite their gravity” his crimes did not warrant a full-life prison term.
An ICC spokesman confirmed it was the heaviest ever sentence handed down to date by the court, which was set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes.
Ntaganda now has 30 days to appeal against the sentence.
No longer untouchable
Human Rights Watch welcomed the prison term. “Bosco Ntaganda’s 30-year sentence sends a strong message that even people considered untouchable may one day be held to account,” said Ida Sawyer, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division. “While his victims’ pain cannot be erased, they can take some comfort in seeing justice prevail.”
A refugee from the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, Ntaganda emerged as a ruthless driver of ethnic Tutsi revolts that subsequently convulsed neighbouring DRC.
Judges said Ntaganda was a “key leader” of the Union of Congolese Patriots rebel group and its military wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), in the DRC’s volatile Ituri region in 2002 and 2003.
The court heard fearful villagers dubbed him Terminator, after the film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a merciless robotic killer, during two bloody operations by Ntaganda’s soldiers against civilians in rival villages in 2002 and 2003.
Fighters loyal to him carried out atrocities such as a massacre in a banana field behind a village in which at least 49 people including children and babies were disembowelled or had their heads smashed in.
Ntaganda — known for his pencil moustache and a penchant for fine dining — said during his trial that he was “soldier not a criminal” and that the Terminator nickname did not apply to him.
After the Ituri conflict, Ntaganda was integrated into the Congolese army and was a general from 2007 to 2012, but then became a founding member of the M23 rebel group in a new uprising against the government.
In 2013 Ntaganda became the first ever suspect to surrender to the court, after walking into the US embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
The conviction was seen as a boost for the ICC after several high-profile suspects walked free. The court has also been criticised for mainly trying African suspects.
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2019