ICC makes landmark ruling in war crimes trial | Africa | DW | 14.03.2012
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Africa

ICC makes landmark ruling in war crimes trial

The International Criminal Court has found Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of war crimes for using children in his rebel army. It's the court's first ever verdict since its inception.

It's been a long, five year process for former Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, and just as long a process for the much criticized International Criminal Court in The Hague.

When the case against Lubanga finally opened in 2009, an ICC prosecutor asked a witness to recount what he had once seen when a member of Lubanga's group had been caught trying to escape.

"Yes, I experienced a young boy being executed," said the witness, "for wanting to escape."

Not far away sat the man accused of authorizing the killing - Lubanga, the founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the proceedings, Lubanga acted as if he knew nothing of what was being said.

International Criminal Court in the Hague

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He was arrested by Congolese security forces in 2006 and subsequently held at the International Criminal Court, in The Hague, Netherlands. In 2009 the court opened the case against him, the charges: war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Between 2002 and 2003, Lubanga is believed to have recruited hundreds of children from Ituri, in eastern Congo. Boys and girls aged between 7 and 15 years old are said to have been killed indiscriminately, or forced into sexual slavery.

According to ICC Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, what matters is that justice is seen to have been done.

"It's about children who were turned into child soldiers," Moreno explained before the proceedings began in 2009.

Since then, there have been 220 days of hearings. And for the first time in an international proceeding, victims of the rebel chief were allowed to testify as witnesses.

Lubanga is considered one of the main players in the conflict in Ituri.

That part of Congo is rich in diamonds and gold. At the end of the 1990s an ethnic conflict between the Hema and Lendu erupted; later Rwanda and Uganda also found themselves embroiled in the violence.

Fighters of the rebel Union of Congolese Patriots, one of them a child soldier, man a checkpoint on the outskirts of Bunia, Congo.

Child soldiers are said to have formed the core of Lubanga's rebels

About 60,000 people were killed, and Lubanga and his UPC rebel group are being held responsible for their deaths.

The case against Lubanga was interrupted twice. The court found fault with the prosecution’s evidence and wanted the names of witnesses to be revealed. But, in the end, it was decided that their names could remain confidential.

Then in August 2011, the prosecution and the defense both decided to omit their final pleas.

Lubanga's lawyers had attacked the eyewitnesses' accounts.

"It shall be proved that all people who have testified as child soldiers have actually lied," Lubanga's lawyer argued, saying eight of the witnesses had never been members of the rebel group.

Lubanga did not react as Wednesday's verdict was read. He now faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. The sentence is to be determined at a later date.

Author: Julia Hahn / cm
Editor: Michael Lawton

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