Press Release–March 16, 2012
On Wednesday, March 14, 2012, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague found Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, guilty of war crimes for conscripting and enlisting child soldiers and using them to participate actively in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from September 2002 to August 2003. The unanimous decision is the first-ever trial judgment in the history of the ICC. The Court will consider the appropriate sentence for Lubanga at a later date, and Lubanga and his defense team will have the opportunity to appeal the decision.
“The ICC’s decision is an important first step toward ending global impunity, and the conviction makes it clear that the use of children in military operations constitutes a war crime. This should send a signal to others engaged in similar activities that they too will be held accountable,” state Wanda M. Akin and Raymond M. Brown, Legal Representatives for victims in the case against President Bashir and the co-founders of the International Justice Project (IJP). “The IJP is pleased with this decision and views it as another step toward victory for the victims in their long pursuit of justice.”
A total of 129 victims, represented by several teams of Legal Representatives and the Office of Public Counsel for Victims, were granted the right to participate in the Lubanga trial. The trial was a long and arduous process with two successive suspensions of the proceedings, an order releasing Lubanga from detention that was eventually reversed by the Appeals Chamber, almost 70 witnesses taking the stand, and multiple other delays.
“The trial marks a milestone for the ICC and provides many lessons learned, as it was the first occurrence of victim participation in an international criminal trial,” state Akin and Brown. “The next groundbreaking legal event to watch will be the reparations proceedings and how the Court chooses to apply reparations principles set out in the Rome Statute to account for the victims’ suffering.”
In addition to the conviction, Trial Chamber I also set out a timetable for reparations proceedings and ordered the Registry to decide what steps it will take to notify victims and their representatives of the judgment and reparations proceedings. Victims will have roughly 30 days to file observations regarding reparations, including, for example, whether reparations should be awarded on a collective or individual basis, how harm should be assessed, whether a reparations order should be made against Lubanga or for an award through the Trust Fund for Victims, and whether the parties or participants will call on expert evidence. After reviewing the observations, the Chamber will decide whether a reparations hearing is necessary.
More than five million people have died in the DRC armed conflict since 1998. The Ituri region in northeastern DRC is one of the areas worst hit by this violence. Local tension between Hema and Lendu ethnic groups erupted in 1999 and accelerated because of a broader international armed conflict. As the conflict escalated and armed groups multiplied, the region became a battleground between the governments of Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC. Lubanga and his Union of Congolese Patriot forces participated actively in this combat, carrying out widespread killing, rape, and torture of thousands of civilians.
Lubanga was surrendered and transferred to the ICC on March 17, 2006, pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by Pre-Trial Chamber I on February 10, 2006. After two years of investigations by the Office of the Prosecutor, he was charged with enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in the Ituri conflict between September 2002 and August 2003. He was the first person charged in the DRC Situation and the ICC’s first detainee. His trial began on January 28, 2009 and concluded in August 2011. Since that time, Trial Chamber I had been deliberating on the applicable law and evidence submitted during the trial.
The International Justice Project (IJP) is a human rights organization based in the greater New York area that seeks to provide justice and holistic support for victims of the world’s most heinous crimes—genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
Photo Credit: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images