Congolese militia commander Bosco Ntaganda enters the courtroom of the ICC (International Criminal Court) during his trial at the Hague in the Netherlands. Picture: Eva Plevier/Pool via AP

Johannesburg -  The war crimes conviction of  Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda, whose fighters disembowelled babies and smashed their heads in, is "long-awaited justice", Amnesty International said on Monday.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted 45-year-old Ntaganda of war crimes and crimes against humanity even though his lawyers had argued that the accused was a victim, having also been recruited as a child soldier.

Ntaganda, who became the fourth person convicted by the ICC since its creation in 2002, surrendered at the US embassy in in the DRC in 2013.

Commenting on the ICC verdict, Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa said: “We can only hope that today’s verdict provides some consolation to those affected by the grotesque crimes perpetrated by Ntaganda and paves the way for his victims and their families to finally obtain a measure of justice and reparations.”

Nyanyuki added: “Every day of the seven years that Ntaganda freely roamed the streets of Goma after the International Criminal Court issued his arrest warrant increased the torment that the victims and their families had to endure - to the shame of DRC authorities and the international community.

“But today, the 2 123 victims in the case can at last begin the process of reparations for all the harm inflicted upon them by Ntaganda.”

However, Ntaganda has the right to appeal his conviction, and he is expected to do so. A separate sentencing hearing will be held in the coming weeks.

Background

Ntaganda was convicted of all 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity, including enlisting and conscripting child soldiers, and rape and sexual slavery.  A total of 2 123 victims participated in the trial, including former child soldiers and victims of Ntaganda’s rebel group.

In 2002, Ntaganda was the Chief of Military Operations in the rebel group Union of Congolese Patriots, the same rebel group to which Thomas Lubanga belonged. Lubanga was convicted by the ICC for the use and recruitment of child soldiers in March 2012 and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

African News Agency (ANA)