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JUSTICE

Congolese warlord sentenced to 30 years by ICC

Bosco Ntaganda during the first day of his trial on 2 September 2015.
Bosco Ntaganda during the first day of his trial on 2 September 2015. REUTERS/Michael Kooren

International Criminal Court judges have sentenced Congolese rebel leader Bosco "Terminator" Ntaganda to 30 years in prison for war crimes, the highest ever penalty handed down by the tribunal.

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Citing a "multiplicity of crimes" including sexual slavery and persecution, presiding judge Robert Fremr told Ntaganda "the overall sentence imposed on you shall therefore be 30 years of imprisonment".

Ntaganda was sentenced for crimes including directing massacres of civilians in Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile, mineral-rich Ituri region in 2002 and 2003.

He became the first person to be found guilty of sexual slavery when he was convicted by The Hague-based ICC in July. In total he was convicted on 13 counts of war crimes and five of crimes against humanity.

The Rwandan-born 46-year-old has appealed against his conviction.

Ruthless leader

The ICC judges heard separately from victims and witnesses in September to help them decide on the sentence.

The first-ever suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC, Ntaganda walked into the US embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali in 2013 and asked to be sent to the court in the Netherlands.

During his trial Ntaganda was portrayed as the ruthless leader of ethnic Tutsi revolts during the conflicts that convulsed the DRC in the wake of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in neighbouring Rwanda.

Judges found that Ntaganda was a "key leader" in terms of planning and operations for the Union of Congolese Patriots rebel group and its military wing, the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).

Sexual slavery

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 crushed.

Ntaganda was also responsible for the rape and sexual slavery of underage girls, and of recruiting troops under the age of 15.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since the violence erupted in Ituri region in 1999 according to rights groups, as militia battle each other for control of valuable mineral resources.

Ntaganda told judges during his trial that he was "soldier, not a criminal" and that the "Terminator" nickname did not apply to him.

Ituri conflict

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.

Prosecutors said his decision to hand himself in to the ICC that year was motivated by self-preservation as he was in danger because of a feud in the group.

Ntaganda is one of five Congolese warlords to have been brought before the ICC, which was set up in 2002 as an independent international body to prosecute those accused of the world's worst crimes.

Ntaganda's former FPLC commander Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2012.

But the ICC has suffered a string of setbacks over recent years, with some high-profile suspects walking free, including Ivorian former leader Laurent Gbagbo earlier this year.

It has also been criticised for trying mainly African suspects.

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