Former Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda was on Monday found guilty of 18-count charge of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Ntaganda, 45, who was nicknamed the “Terminator,’’ oversaw widespread attacks on civilians and recruited child soldiers.
In one incident, women had their stomachs cut open and children had their throats slit, the court heard.
Ntaganda was convicted on all 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity.
He faces life in prison at a sentencing hearing expected in the coming weeks.
The charges included murder, rape, recruiting children as soldiers and subjecting them to sexual abuse, looting and displacement of civilians.
Officials in Congo welcomed the verdict, with the acting justice minister Azarias Ruberwa saying the government was keen to hear what sentence Ntaganda gets.
“The Congolese government welcomes the verdict and anxiously awaits the sentencing.
“Serious crimes have been committed in this country and the perpetrators must be judged, Bosco Ntaganda is one of them,’’ he told reporters.
Monday’s verdict also marked the first successful prosecution of sexual violence as a weapon of war in the Congo conflict.
Ntaganda had pleaded not guilty to all the charges brought against him and asserted he was “a revolutionary, not a criminal.”
The crimes occurred when Ntaganda headed the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) the military wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots political group – in north-eastern Ituri province between 2002 and 2003.
A total of 2,123 victims were heard from by the court since the trial opened in September 2015 in The Hague.
Ituri’s governor Jean Bamanitsa told dpa after the verdict that Ntanganda should be sentenced to life imprisonment.
“He committed a lot of crimes here in Ituri, we are waiting for serious reparations for the victims who are today traumatised by his crimes,’’ he said.
Ntaganda ordered attacks on a rival ethnic group in order to gain control of the province’s gold, diamond and oil resources, prosecutors said.
The attacks were directed mainly against the ethnic group of Lendu. “They wanted to destroy the Lendu population,’’ presiding Judge Robert Fremr said on Monday.
Ntaganda was also involved in the M23 rebel movement, which signed a peace deal with the government in 2013.
He surrendered to the U.S. embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali in 2013 after having eluded capture for seven years.
Ntaganda’s former commander Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in 2012 for using child soldiers, becoming the first person to be convicted by the ICC.
Dozens of armed groups remain active in eastern Congo, which has been ravaged by violence since the 1996-2003 Congo wars.
Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, said in a statement “we can only hope that today’s verdict provides some consolation to those affected by the grotesque crimes perpetrated by Ntaganda.
She added that she prays it paves way for his victims and their families to finally obtain a measure of justice and reparations.