Congolese Warlord Found Guilty in ICC’s First Verdict

Posted March 14th, 2012 at 12:35 pm (UTC-5)
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The International Criminal Court has found Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of sending children into battle, in the court's first verdict since it was established a decade ago.

Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said the court unanimously found the evidence, including video footage and witness testimony, proved that Lubanga and his co-perpetrators knowingly conscripted children 15 years old and younger.

The judge said Lubanga recruited the children to fight for the armed wing of his group, the Union of Congolese Patriots, during the Democratic Republic of Congo's civil war in 2002 and 2003.

“The chamber has reached its decision unanimously. The chamber concludes that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt Mr. Thomas Lubanga is guilty of the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years into the FPLC and using them to participate actively in hostilities.”

Lubanga will remain in custody until his sentencing at a later hearing. He faces up to life in prison. He can still appeal the verdict.

Lubanga was the first suspect to be tried by the world's permanent war crimes tribunal. It was set up in 2002 and Lubanga's trial got underway in 2009, three years after Lubanga's arrest.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Tuesday the verdict would set a precedent that shows the world is on guard against crimes against humanity.

“Tomorrow is a very important day. The first decision of the first permanent international criminal court. The world was united at Nuremberg, but we learned that 'never again' requires that we are not waiting for a new Hitler. So tomorrow's decision on Lubanga, who was a local militia leader, is critically important.”

The verdict drew praise around the world.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called it an “historic moment” in providing justice and accountability to the Congolese people.

A spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the ruling shows the international community is committed to holding accountable those who commit crimes against children during armed conflict.

Amnesty International said the decision shows the ICC “can bring the world's worst offenders to justice.”

Human Rights Watch called the verdict “an encouraging sign that international justice is up and running.”

Meanwhile, authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo say a top commander from a different rebel group, the FDLR, has surrendered amid a “major military operation” mounted by the Congolese army and United Nations peacekeepers.

U.N. spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai told VOA Tuesday Lt. Colonel Bizimana, or Idrissa Muradadi, and three of his bodyguards turned themselves in to the U.N. mission in South Kivu.

Mounoubai said Bizimana is the first high-level rebel to surrender to the U.N. disarmament program, and he said he thinks it will lead more rebels to turn themselves in.

“It is excellent news because we think that the surrender of Idrissa will also have a demoralizing effect on the troops and we are expecting to see a lot of the FDLR [rebels] surrender in the coming days.”

“There is a major military operation going on right now by the FARDC [Congo's national army], supported by MONUSCO, and we believe that this has something to do with the surrender of Mr. Bizimana because I think they start feeling the heat of this operation now.”

The FDLR was established by ethnic Hutus who took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis and fled to Congo after the killing spree was stopped.

The group has been accused of committing atrocities in the eastern DRC.