Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga was on March 14, 2012 convicted by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges of committing the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years into the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) and using them to participate actively in hostilities in an armed conflict.
The crimes were committed in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during 2002 and 2003. At his sentencing hearing on June 13, Mr. Lubanga addressed the court. Below is his statement, as translated by the ICC:
Thank you for giving me the floor.
Mr. President, your Honors, it was a shock for me when I heard your judgment of 14 March on which you will be handing out â-â- down a sentence. I was deeply overwhelmed and saddened by it, confused to note that after three years of trial we have not been able to unmask all the exaggerations, lies and masquerades. I have been projected as a warlord, pitiless, without parents or dealing with the children of the Ituri in order to feed his desire for power.
I have been convicted for the enlistment of children below 15. Young witnesses tried in vain to appear or to pass for child soldiers before this Court, but not a single one of the soâ-called child soldiers alleged to be below 15 came to this Court and accused me of those crimes. Out of an army of about 8,000 men, not a single child soldier below 15 was presented to this Court by the Prosecutor. How is that possible? Some claimed that Hema children have refused to testify against me because of community solidarity, yet in this trial we â-â- it has been established that they were soldiers from other ethnic groups. Why did the Lagura and Kakwa of Aru, or the Nyali and the Bira from Irumu, and the Mahagi or the Lendu who were part of our army, as well as other ethnic groups, why did the Prosecutor not find a single one of them and call them before your august Chamber?
Is this an indication that there was no child below 15 in the FPRC? Does that mean that none of them believes that I am a criminal? Does that mean that there was such a small number of them that it is today impossible to find even one? As far as I am concerned, the uncertainty is great. And I thought that it would even be greater in the minds of the Judges ten years after the events in a place so far removed from the Ituri.
In 2002/2003 there was chaos in the Ituri, and no one can say with certainty that no child below 15 was among the soldiers. What is certain however is that I, Thomas Lubanga, I was always - I always stood in a position to any such enlisting - or was opposed to that. So each year on 15 May a celebration of the kadogos [child soldiers] is observed, the kadogos who overthrew Mr. Mobutu [the former Congolese president overthrown in 1996]. I, on the other hand, your Honors, I never accepted or tolerated any such enlistment.
Mr. President, your Honors, from 1999 to 2003 Ituri was struck by a tragedy that could not even be given a name. I witnessed horrible massacres and killings. On several occasions, I saw hundreds of bodies savagely chopped up by machetes, bodies burnt alive, villages completely burnt to the ground, thousands of people fleeing in desperation, and sometimes I fled with them in circumstances where often what mattered was only one's life, and I have been forever affected by this situation; yet unfortunately no political or military official genuinely undertook to attend to the security of the people. Their lone concern was money and power.
Between the second half of 2002 and the first half of 2003 emblematic killings took place in Nyakunde. Commander Kasenyi, Tchomia, Bogoro, Nyamamba (phon), Muzekeri (phon), in Katoto, in Mongbwalu, and the list can go on up to about 300, and all these killings added up to thousands of victims. The particular case of Nyakunde was one where there were thousands of victims. Then there were the massacres of Drodro, of Kasenyi and Tchomia which were established or directly established by the High Commission for Human Rights with the assistance of various other officials. Those who are responsible for those massacres are still in power in Kinshasa. Why have they not been prosecuted by this Court?
Similar killings caused thousands of young persons to go for training in Mandro. It is those young people who, while I was in Kinshasa, drove out [erstwhile Governor] Lopondo from Ituri and deployed across the Ituri. What then is my responsibility in this matter? When it is said that I, Thomas Lubanga, sent Chief Kahwa to Rwanda to seek weapons is not true; that is false. To say that I made [Richard] Lonema the interim head [of UPC], that is again false. To claim that I had telephone conversations with the Ituri during and after my stay in prison at the DEMIAP (détection militaire des activités anti-patrie, or Military Detection of Anti-Fatherland Activities] once again is contrary to the reality that I experienced personally.
All these allegations amount to lies, as well as other such allegations made by witnesses who are determined to wreak havoc in my life at all cost and to extricate themselves from the black misery that most Congolese are experiencing. This dishonesty is most unfortunate. I read in your judgment that a witness allegedly saw me at the Mongbwalu road abducting a child for the purposes of enlisting the said child in an army. I would like to assert before this Court that I never, I never could have stooped to such a low level to commit an act which is contrary to all values that are dear to me.
Mr. President, your Honors, I feel deeply saddened when in your judgment I am portrayed as one who sought to dominate the Ituri. The question must be asked: What would a - what would power have served me in this vast cemetery that was the Ituri at the time, Ituri which had no future? I know that people were interested in power and money, but they did not feel like we did, the pain of the events that we experienced in our own body. I took up responsibility not for money, not for power, but for peace.
We created the UPC in 2000 in order to pursue peace. We created the FRPI [the Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri militia group] in 2002 in order to pursue peace. It is in order to pursue peace that I wanted to organize with the national secretaries and the notables of the Ituri [as] a forum for exchange of views and discussions. It is for peace that the FPLC soldiers needed to be trained. That is my common plan. That is the soâ-called common plan on which I should have been tried. The results may have not always been satisfactory, but the efforts that I made were genuine and sincere and real, and I want to make that assertion again on this last day. The efforts were real, in the midst of the greatest perils.
Mr. President, your Honors, throughout my life I have never escaped or dodged responsibility. I have always been responsible for my choices, for my state of mind, for my revolt, even if it had to lead me to prison. In 2000 when I rebelled against the Ugandan forces regarding their management of security in the Ituri, I found myself in jail. In May 2002 I was again in jail in the DEMIAP in Kinshasa having been thrown in jail by President Kabila. In 2005 once again I was thrown in jail by the political regime in Kinshasa. Then in 2006 that very regime handed me over to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and I was transferred as the first ICC detainee taken some 6,000 kilometres away from my native home in the Ituri.
Against the backdrop of my experience, or what I have suffered here over the last six years, and what I have again suffered here today in this courtroom, all hinged on lies and completely disconnected from the reality that the people of the Ituri have experienced. I would have wished that on this day in the lieu and state of all these people who know nothing about what happened in the Ituri, I would have wished that those people of the Ituri who were concerned by these things that I am being accused of, I wish that they could have been listening to what we are saying and they would have been in a better position to judge me. It is unfortunate that these people have not been able to follow these proceedings. It is the people of the Ituri who know what I did. It is the people of the Ituri who know exactly what I achieved.
Let me conclude by stating that I bear homage to the memory of all the victims of the atrocities that were committed in the Ituri. I pray, or I hope, that the peace for which I worked so hard can return definitively to the Ituri. I thank you.