14 March 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: Lubanga Guilty of Use of Child Soldiers

From Al Jazeera's "Inside Story": While the International Criminal Court is the world's only independent tribunal to try genocide, war crimes and ... ( Resource: Can International Criminal Court Deter Rights Abusers )

Today, International Criminal Court (ICC) judges in The Hague delivered the Court's first verdict—a finding of guilt against former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga.

Prosecutors accused Lubanga of the war crimes of conscripting, enlisting, and using children under the age of 15 years for combat purposes while he served as political head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) rebel group in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Lubanga denied all allegations against him, insisting that he gave orders for children not to be involved in combat and that prosecutors had influenced witnesses to lie against him.

The ICC judges ruled that the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that Lubanga is guilty of the crimes charged. Judge Adrian Fulford, Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, in delivering the verdict said that there was reasonable evidence to believe that Lubanga was involved in a recruitment drive for his UPC rebel group and that such drive included conscripting children and using them for combat purposes. The judges also found that Lubanga personally used children as his bodyguards.

The judges agreed with the defense on allegations that the prosecution had delegated its investigations to local intermediaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and that these intermediaries manipulated and influenced some witnesses to lie against Lubanga. The evidence of these prosecution witnesses were in doubt and were therefore disregarded by the judges.

On the strength of other prosecution evidence, including a video footage of Lubanga addressing children at a UPC training camp, the judges found that Lubanga is guilty of the charges against him.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, has welcomed the delivery of the Lubanga judgment by the ICC today saying:

"The judgment is an important step forward in the worldwide struggle against impunity for grave crimes. Its pointed criticism of the prosecution's supervision of 'intermediaries' further underscores the need for the Court to reform its investigative procedures and establish clear rules for working with persons other than Court staff to identify and help gather evidence."

Lubanga will now remain in custody until the judges schedule a separate sentencing hearing during which they will determine the length of jail term that he will serve.

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