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ICC Set to Open Trial Against Congo Rebel Leader

Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga will face charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday, Jan. 26, in the first-ever trial at the world's permanent international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Thomas Lubanga with headphones during a hearing at the ICC

Lubanga is the fist suspect to go on trial before the ICC in the Hague

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, from Argentina, and prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, from Gambia, accuse Lubanga, 48, of recruiting child soldiers during the brutal Congolese 1998-2003 civil war.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo during a press conference

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo

In limiting its charges only to those of child soldier recruitment, the prosecution defied pressure from human rights groups and victims, who wanted to prosecute Lubanga also for other war crimes.

Bensouda, 47, an attorney who previously worked for the Rwanda tribunal, had feared that expanding the number of charges would substantially slow down the trial. She also felt that most of the evidence against Lubanga related to the charges of recruiting children for conflict.

Lubanga, the former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and his militia allegedly trained hundreds of children and subsequently forced them to fight. The prosecution claims Lubanga deliberately choose children below the age of 15, because they would follow orders more easily and kill on demand.

Lubanga, an ethnic Hema, is also known for fighting a bloody war with the Lendu tribe in the northeastern Congolese province of Ituri in 2002 and 2003.

This war resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. Lubanga has always claimed he had no control over UPC militias, because, he said, he was a politician and not a militia leader.

The question of evidence

Fighters of the rebel Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC, stand guard during a rally

The trial will shed light on Lubanga's use of child soldiers in Congo

Lubanga was arrested in the Congolese capital Kinshasa in 2005. His trial was originally due to begin in June 2008 but was postponed on June 16 after the judges found the prosecution had withheld more then 200 documents that could be used to prepare Lubanga's defense.

Withholding the documents would prevent the Congolese militia leader from receiving a fair trial, the court said.

The particular evidence was classified information, retrieved through ways that, the prosecution said, could not be revealed for diplomatic and security reasons.

After months of negotiations, the material has now been given to the court as well as to Lubanga's defense team.

During preliminary hearings, the ICC, chaired by British Judge Sir Adrian Fulford, 56, determined there were "substantial reasons" to assume Lubanga was responsible for recruiting child soldiers.

International but not universal

Judges of the International Criminal Court during a hearing

The ICC was founded in 2002

Operating under the auspices of the United Nations, the ICC was established by the Statute of Rome in 1998, an international agreement that has been signed by 108 countries, excluding, among others, the United States, China and Russia.

Since it began operating in 2002, the ICC has investigated war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Darfur.

The court has a total of 17 judges and is presided over by Canadian Judge Philippe Kirsch.

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