The International Criminal Court has filed charges against former warlord Bosco Ntaganda, nicknamed "The Terminator", for war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The judges "unanimously confirmed charges consisting in 18 counts of war crimes ... and crimes against humanity", against Ntaganda, including rape, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers, The Hague-based court said.
The judges pored over 69,000 pages of evidence before concluding there were clear grounds to charge him with "a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population" between 2002 and 2003 when he was military chief of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo.
The militant group, drawn from the Hema ethnic group in the conflict-ravaged east of the country, carried out brutal sectarian attacks against non-Hema groups including the Lendu, Bira and Nande.
Fighting in eastern DRC has left 60,000 dead since 1999, exacerbated by the wealth of mineral resources in the region, notably gold and minerals used in electronic products.
Ntaganda, who is now 41, was one of the most sought-after fugitives in the Great Lakes region of Africa until he handed himself in in March last year.
For three years he served as an army general but in April 2012 he mutinied and formed the M23 rebel group that temporarily seized control of parts of eastern DRC.
When the M23 split into bitterly opposed factions and lost the outside support of the Rwandan government, Ntaganda fled for his life to the US embassy in Rwanda and asked for a transfer to the ICC.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the charges, which also include murder, pillaging and persecution.
"Ntaganda's trial should motivate the ICC prosecutor to take her investigation in Congo to the next level and go after the senior officials ultimately responsible for the region's atrocities," it said.