Former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga has been jailed for 14 years by the ICC for using child soldiers in his rebel army. He is the first convicted war criminal in the court's 10 year history to be sentenced.
Somberly dressed Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, former rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo, displayed no emotion as Judge Adrian Fulford sentenced him to fourteen years in prison. The accused was told the six years he had already spent in detention would be deducted from his jail term.
Fulford said the crimes were without doubt very serious and affected the whole international community. The same judge had convicted Lubanga in March, finding him guilty of recruiting and using hundreds of children in the Union of Congolese Patriots' (UPC) militia, known as the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), in eastern Congo's Ituri region in 2002 and 2003. Many of those children were just 15 years old. The government of the DRC arrested Lubanga in 2006 and sent him to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Protested his innocence
Tuesday's sentence means that the former warlord will have to spend another eight years in prison. The prosecution, led by former ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, had called for a sentence of 30 years. "Instead of obeying their mothers, these children were obeying their commanders. They were trained to kill and to rape. They were sent into battle zones where they had to kill everybody, men, women and children," Ocampo told the court in June. But he added he was prepared to accept a lesser sentence of 20 years, if Lubanga showed remorse and apologized.
Lubanga, though, persisted in maintaining he was innocent, insisting he was just a politician who had no authority in the FPLC. He told judges repeatedly "I, Thomas Lubanga, was always against the recruitment of child soldiers. I was always opposed to it." The former warlord alleged that the prosecution's case was built on false testimony and lies.
Former Congolese child soldiers waiting to board a UNICEF bus in Uganda
More than 60 witnesses
Lubanga's militia terrorized northeast Congo between 1998 and 2003. They torched villages, murdered and raped. Human rights organisations say 60,000 people were killed. It was only after lengthy deliberations that Ocampo decided to limit the charges to the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The chief prosecutor regarded presentation of evidence for murder and other atrocities that would stand up in court as too difficult, a decision for which he was severely criticized, particularly by rights groups in the Ituri region.
Lubanga's trial went on for 200 days. More than 60 witnesses were called, including some of his victims. This was the first time that the international judiciary had devoted itself to a case solely about child soldiers. Doli Ibefo, spokesperson for the Congolese NGO Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless), said the verdict convicting Lubanga offered "some consolation for the victims and for those defending human rights and fighting to ensure that such crimes do not go unpunished."
Ntganda still at large
Geraldine Matioli-Zeltner followed the trial for the rights group Human Rights Watch. She believes it will have a big impact and hopes it will serve as a warning to all who let children fight adult wars. "In particular, we hope that Bosco Ntganda, who is leading a new rebellion in eastern Congo, hears of this sentence, because he is committing the same crimes that were once perpetrated by Lubanga," she told DW in an interview.
Ntganda currently heads the M23 militia which is fighting the DRC's armed forces. He was also accused of enlisting child soldiers in the same ICC case, but, unlike Lubanga, has yet to be arrested.
Lubanga's UPC party has denounced Tuesday's sentence as politically motivated. "To convict an individual you need genuine evidence and strong arguments. In the trial of Mr Lubanga we only heard lies" said Dechuvi Macho, the leader of the UPC. Lubanga can appeal his sentence. It is still uncertain where he will serve it. So far six countries, including the West African state of Mali, have said they are willing to accept prisoners sentenced by the ICC.
Author: Julia Hahn / mc
Editor: Susan Houlton