The ICC has made only a few convictions since its creation in 2002, and the former Congolese rebel’s sentencing is the longest the court has issued.
Ntaganda was born in Rwanda and has been fighting in armed conflicts there and in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since he was 17.
In July, the ICC found him guilty of the 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges stem from his time as a rebel leader in Ituri, a mineral-rich part of northeastern Congo, between 2002 and 2003. He was then high up in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a rebel group with a military wing known as the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
Judge Robert Fremr described Ntaganda as a “key leader” giving orders to “target and kill civilians,” the BBC reported. The judge highlighted several specific crimes committed by Ntaganda and his men, including the brutal rape of a 13-year-old girl and the murder by the rebel leader himself of a Catholic priest.
“Men, women and children and babies were found in the field,” said Fremr, according to the BBC. “Some bodies were found naked, some had hands tied up, some had their heads crushed. Several bodies were disembowelled or otherwise mutilated.”
Fremr told the court that “despite their gravity and his degree of culpability,” Ntaganda’s crimes did not meet the standard for a life sentence.
Ntaganda has already begun to appeal his July conviction.
Ntaganda’s involvement in a long list of battles traces much of the violence that has traumatized the war-torn and mineral-rich DRC. During the past two decades, he’s fought with an alphabet soup of different militias and armies in both Rwanda and Congo.
Aid groups have called the conflicts in Congo the world’s deadliest since World War II. The country’s civil war ended in 2003, but fighting and insurgencies continue. Today an estimated 4.5 million Congolese are displaced, according to the United Nations.
Ntaganda was first indicted by the ICC in 2006 on charges of recruiting child soldiers. He surrendered to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda in 2013.
All the men so far convicted by the ICC are also from Africa, including the first man sentenced, Thomas Lubanga, whom Ntaganda served under in the UCP. The ICC’s focus so far on Africa has angered some on the continent who see the international body as unfairly targeting Africans.