ICC-CPI/Michael Kooren, HO/AP
Alleged Congolese warlord Thomas

Congolese Warlord’s Trial a Watershed Moment for World Court

January 27, 2009 02:32 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Thomas Lubanga pleaded not guilty to charges involving the training of child soldiers to kill ethnic rivals during Congo’s civil war in 1998–2003. His trial is the first for the International Criminal Court.

Lubanga Pleads Not Guilty

On Monday, Thomas Lubanga became the first defendant to be arrested and tried by the International Criminal Court at the Hague, which was created in 2002.

The 45-year-old leader of the militia group Union of Congolese Patriots is being tried for recruiting child soldiers as young as 10 and leading atrocities committed by the militia during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ethnic conflict that killed tens of thousands of people. He was first arrested by the court in March 2006.

“Lubanga’s armed group recruited and trained hundreds of children to kill, pillage, and rape. Hundreds of children still suffer the consequences of Lubanga’s crimes,” chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on the trial’s opening day, according to The Christian Science Monitor. “They cannot forget the beatings they suffered, they cannot forget the terror they felt and the terror they inflicted. They cannot forget the sounds of the machine guns, they cannot forget that they killed. They cannot forget that they raped, that they were raped.”

The trial is a significant step for Africa, which has seen many dictators and warlords go unpunished, and is being closely watched by potential defendants in other countries, such as President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda of Rwanda, and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, as well as countries that have not yet joined the court, including America, Russia, India and China. The trial comes more than a decade after 120 countries signed the Rome Treaty, an agreement to create a world court to try war criminals.

Background: “Congo’s Lubanga in legal limbo”

In October, the ICC upheld the suspension of Lubanga’s trial, and ordered his release from court custody, after a lower court ruled that he had not received a fair trial. But the court sided with the prosecution in refusing to release Lubanga immediately and leaving the trial chamber to decide whether he should be detained or released. “This is a disappointing development for victims,” said Christian Hemedi, the co-ordinator of the Congolese National Coalition for the ICC, according to Al Jazeera. “We were waiting for the proceedings to resume and restore our confidence in the court’s first trial,” he said.

Key Player: Thomas Lubanga

Thomas Lubunga Dyilo was born in 1960. Before becoming leader of the ethnic Hema militia group Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), which was created in 2000, he served as Military Commander of the Congolese Assembly for Democracy—Liberation Movement (RCD-ML), a rebel movement with links to Uganda. The UPC has been accused of the massacre of hundreds of civilians in 2002 and 2003. Lubanga was arrested by UN peacekeepers in 2005, and held in a Kinshasa jail until he was sent to the ICC at The Hague in 2006. The charges against him were confirmed on Jan. 29, 2007, and his trial began Jan. 26, 2009. In 1960, he told a UN mission that, “What is important is to judge each group on its actions. Those who have committed genocide or massacres have to be punished.”

Reference: International Criminal Court

Related Topics: News from the Congo


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