ICC hands Ntaganda 30-year jail term

Trial Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday, unanimously, sentenced Bosco Ntaganda to a total of 30 years of imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The former Congolese rebel leader was found guilty of 18 counts in July, including murder, rape, sexual slavery and enlisting child soldiers.

At the time of his sentencing, Ntaganda had spent in detention at the ICC more than six years having been remanded on March 22, 2013, and that time will be deducted from his 30-year sentence.

The court in The Hague said Thursday in its ruling that judges determined individual sentences for each count, which if added together would total 218 years in prison.

But ICC rules cap sentences at 30 years.  Judges may decided to impose a life sentence instead, but in their ruling the judges said because many of the individual crimes involve overlapping conduct, they did not warrant a life sentence.

During his trial, Ntaganda denied being a killer and a war criminal, saying he never attacked civilians and “always protected them.”

Prosecutors said he commanded a rebel group, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) that killed, raped and exploited people in Congo’s eastern Ituri province in 2002 and 2003.

A lawyer for victims told the court that, girls as young as 12 were forced to serve as so-called wives to senior rebel commanders.

The attacks by the UPC allegedly targeted specific ethnic groups such as the Lendu, Bira, and Nande.  One alleged co-conspirator was Thomas Lubanga, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012 after the ICC convicted him of conscripting child soldiers.

Ntaganda remained at large for seven years after his indictment was issued in 2006, irritating judicial officials with occasional appearances in public.

He co-founded the Congolese rebel group M23 in early 2012.  In a surprise move, however, he surrendered at the U.S. embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, in March of 2013.

Experts say he may have turned himself in because fighting within M23 caused him to fear for his life.