THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court on Monday convicted a notorious rebel commander known as “The Terminator” of 18 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape and sexual slavery for his role in atrocities in an ethnic conflict in a mineral-rich region of Congo in 2002-2003.
Bosco Ntaganda, the former commander, maintained his innocence during his trial but now faces a maximum life sentence after the verdict. He showed no emotion as the presiding judge, Robert Fremr, delivered the judgment.
A separate hearing will be scheduled to determine Mr. Ntaganda’s sentence. He has 30 days to appeal.
Mr. Ntaganda, who was first indicted in 2006, became a symbol of impunity in Africa, even serving as a general in the Congolese Army before turning himself in 2013 as his power base crumbled.
In March of that year, Mr. Ntaganda unexpectedly showed up at the United States Embassy in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, where he was taken into custody, after a reward was established for his arrest.
At the time, Mr. Ntaganda had few options: He was coming under attack by fighters in his own rebel group, known as the M23. “The Rwandans would have killed him — he knew too much,” said Barnabé Kikaya bin Karubi, Congo’s ambassador to Britain in 2013. “His only chance to stay alive was to turn himself in to the Americans or whomever.”
Judge Fremr said that Mr. Ntaganda was guilty as a direct perpetrator or a co-perpetrator of murders, rapes of men and women, a massacre in a banana field behind a building called The Paradiso and of enlisting and using child soldiers.
“The bodies of those killed — men, women and children and babies — were found in the banana field over the next days,” Judge Fremr said. “Some bodies were found naked, some had their hands tied up and some had their heads crushed. Several bodies were disemboweled or otherwise mutilated.”
During his trial, Mr. Ntaganda testified for weeks in his own defense, saying that he wanted to put the record straight about his reputation as a ruthless military leader. At a hearing in 2013, when asked by a judge to state his profession, he responded, “I was a soldier in the Congo.”
He was the deputy chief of staff and commander of operations for rebel group the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo. The force’s leader, Thomas Lubanga, was convicted by the International Criminal Court in 2012 of using child soldiers. He is serving a 14-year prison sentence.
Maria Elena Vignoli, the international justice counsel for Human Rights Watch, welcomed Mr. Ntaganda’s conviction.
“The long-awaited judgment provides an important measure of justice for Bosco Ntaganda’s victims and puts others responsible for grave crimes on notice,” she said. “But renewed violence in eastern Congo highlights the need to address the impunity for other abusive leaders.”
Kenneth Roth, the rights group’s executive director, called the conviction “a big win for the survivors.”
Set up in 2002, the court has convicted only four people of war crimes. Five others have been found guilty of interfering with witnesses.
Judge Fremr said 102 witnesses had testified at Mr. Ntaganda’s trial, including a woman who survived having her throat slit by his forces. The judge said the former commander himself had shot and killed an elderly man serving as a Catholic priest.
Ms. Vignoli said thousands more victims in Congo still awaited justice. “The I.C.C. and Congolese authorities should work together to bring to trial many more of those responsible for grave crimes, including senior officials,” she said.