The International Criminal Court (ICC) has sentenced a Congolese former rebel leader known as “The Terminator” to 30 years in prison after he was convicted earlier this year of war crimes, including murder, rape and sexual slavery.
The sentence on Thursday was the highest-ever penalty handed down by the Hague-based court.
Bosco Ntaganda was found guilty in July of directing massacres of civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) volatile, mineral-rich Ituri region in 2002 and 2003.
In total, he was convicted of 13 counts of war crimes and five of crimes against humanity. He was the first person to be found guilty of sexual slavery.
The Rwandan-born 46-year-old has appealed against his conviction.
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 United States 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 amid the wars that convulsed the DRC after 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).
Rebecca Unyumbe, who survived an attack in the village of Kiwanja in eastern DRC, said her one-year-old son and husband were killed by fighters led by Ntaganda.
“What is happening with Ntaganda should be a deterrent for others who want to come and terrorise us in villages. Those people destroyed our lives,” she told Al Jazeera ahead of the rebel chief’s sentencing.
More than 60,000 people have been killed since the violence erupted in the Ituri region in 1999 according to rights groups, as militias battled each other for control of scarce mineral resources.
The ICC said fighters loyal to Ntaganda carried out atrocities such as a massacre in a banana field behind the village of Kobu in northeast DRC, in which at least 49 people, including children and babies, were disemboweled or had their heads smashed in.