21 October 2008

Congo-Kinshasa: International Criminal Court Confirms Decision to Halt Trial of Rebel

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today confirmed its earlier decision to suspend the trial of a Congolese rebel leader accused of recruiting child soldiers to serve in his militia, but ordered that he remain in detention pending another hearing.

In a ruling issued in The Hague, the ICC's five-member appeals chamber unanimously dismissed an appeal by prosecutors against the trial chamber's decision in June to stay the proceedings against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.

But a majority of the appeals chamber reversed an earlier ruling regarding Mr. Lubanga's release and ordered that the trial chamber hold a new hearing to determine whether he stay in custody or be released with or without conditions.

Mr. Lubanga, the founder and leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots in the Ituri region of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was charged with a series of war crimes, including conscripting and enlisting child soldiers into the military wing of his group and then using them to participate in hostilities between September 2002 and August 2003.

The trial of Mr. Lubanga was due to have been the first to be held by the ICC, and it had been scheduled to begin on 23 June this year.

Announcing its rulings today, the appeal judges backed the view of the trial chamber that there was no prospect that a fair trial of Mr. Lubanga could be held because prosecutors had failed to disclose more than 200 documents to the defence containing evidence that could potentially have exonerated the rebel leader.

"The prosecutor had obtained the documents in question from several information providers, in particular from the United Nations, on the confidentiality, and these information providers had refused to consent to their disclosure to the defence and, in most instances, to the trial chamber," according to a press release issued by the ICC.

In its decision on whether Mr. Lubanga should remain in detention, the appeals chamber said the trial chamber had been wrong to find that an accused person's unconditional release was the inevitable consequence of a stay on proceedings or the only correct course to be taken.

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