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ICC issues first ruling

March 14, 2012

Ending a three-year trial, Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” on Wednesday of recruiting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them as soldiers in conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the first verdict issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) since it began operating in 2002.

From the ICC Press Release:

Today, 14 March 2012, Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided unanimously that Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is guilty, as a co-perpetrator, of the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities from 1 September 2002 to 13 August 2003. It is the first verdict issued by an ICC Trial Chamber. At present, 14 other cases are before the Court, three of which are at the stage of trial.

The present war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities were committed in the context of an internal armed conflict that took place in the Ituri (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and involved the Force patriotique pour la libération du Congo (Patriotic Force for the Liberation of the Congo) (FPLC), led by Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, against the Armée Populaire Congolaise and other militias, including the Force de résistance patriotique en Ituri. A common plan was agreed by Mr Lubanga Dyilo and his co-perpetrators to build an army for the purpose of establishing and maintaining political and military control over Ituri. This resulted in boys and girls under the age of 15 being conscripted and enlisted, and used to participate actively in hostilities.

Mr Lubanga Dyilo was the President of the Union des patriotes congolais(Union of Congolese Patriots) (UPC), the Commander-in-Chief of its military wing, the FPLC, and its political leader. He exercised an overall coordinating role regarding the activities of the UPC/FPLC and he actively supported recruitment initiatives, for instance by giving speeches to the local population and the recruits. Furthermore, he personally used children below the age of 15 amongst his bodyguards and he regularly saw guards of other UPC/FPLC staff members who were below the age of 15. The Chamber, comprising Judge Adrian Fulford (presiding judge), Judge Elizabeth Odio Benito and Judge René Blattmann, found that the evidence presented by the Prosecutor establishes beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Lubanga Dyilo’s contribution was essential to the common plan.

At the request of Mr Lubanga Dyilo, and in accordance with article 76(2) of the Rome Statute, the Chamber will hold a separate sentencing hearing. The Chamber will, furthermore, establish the principles that are to be applied to reparations for victims. The defence is entitled to appeal the conviction within 30 days of receiving the French translation of the Judgment.

The international justice advocacy director of the NGO Human Rights Watch observes that the ruling sends the message that recruiting, enlisting, and using child soldiers is a serious crime in international law that can lead violators “to the dock.”

For more details and further analysis see these news stories published by the BBC, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and Al Jazeera.

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