Congolese warlord recruited child troops

Thu, Mar 15, 2012, 00:00

THE INTERNATIONAL Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague yesterday convicted Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in a landmark ruling, the first since the war crimes court was established a decade ago.

Lubanga (51), who could face up to life imprisonment if he does not appeal the verdict, was found guilty of recruiting and deploying child soldiers during a bloody five-year conflict in the Ituri region of eastern Congo that ended in 2003 and claimed the lives of an estimated 60,000 people.

In March 2006, Lubanga became the first person to be detained on the foot of an ICC arrest warrant. His trial for three counts of war crimes began in January 2009.

In a verdict that ran to more than 600 pages, the three-judge panel yesterday said children were forced into camps in the Ituri region, where they endured harsh training regimes and brutal punishments. Lubanga’s troops used girls as domestic workers and subjected them to rape and sexual violence, the judges added.

“The accused and his co-perpetrators agreed to, and participated in, a common plan to build an army for the purpose of establishing and maintaining political and military control over Ituri,” they said. “This resulted in the conscription and enlistment of boys and girls under the age of 15.”

Human-rights groups welcomed the historic conviction, which came three months before the end of Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s nine-year term as the ICC’s prosecutor.

“Today’s verdict is a warning to anyone who commits the horrific crime of using and abusing children both on and off the battlefield,” said Michael Bochenek of Amnesty International.

“The guilty verdict shows that when national authorities fail to investigate these crimes the international community can ensure human-rights abusers like Lubanga are brought to justice.”

Several organisations noted, however, that Lubanga’s co-accused and alleged former deputy, Bosco Ntaganda, remained at large in eastern Congo where he was being shielded by the Congolese government following his integration into the national army.

“The verdict highlights the need to urgently arrest Bosco Ntaganda, who is currently a general in the Congo army in Goma and continues to evade justice,” said Human Rights Watch.

The case of Ntaganda highlights the political restrictions that hamper the court’s reach.

Lubanga’s conviction also reignited long-standing wider debate over the effectiveness of the ICC, which has been thrown into sharp relief this year due to the court’s inability to act on Syria because of deadlock at the UN Security Council over the crisis there.

The security council is the only body that could order such a prosecution, as Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute, under which the court was created in 2002.

Yesterday’s judgment also included sharp criticism of how Mr Moreno-Ocampo’s office had conducted its first case. The judges noted the prosecution’s failure to rigorously verify its evidence, which led to the discrediting of several witnesses.

Among those still sought by the ICC are Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and Joseph Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army oversaw a 20-year reign of terror in Uganda.

Kony made headlines this month after a YouTube video by a US filmmaker went viral, prompting calls for his capture.